An Aspirational New Vision for Downtown Menlo Park - Great Outdoor Dining, Public Art, Lively Community Plaza | Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park | Dana Hendrickson | Almanac Online |

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Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park

By Dana Hendrickson

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About this blog: I hope readers of my blog will join me and other members of the Menlo Park community in a collective effort to transform our downtown into a much more appealing place, one where residents enjoy a lot more positive experiences and ...  (More)

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An Aspirational New Vision for Downtown Menlo Park - Great Outdoor Dining, Public Art, Lively Community Plaza

Uploaded: Mar 15, 2021

But first, a BIG shout-out to the Menlo Park City Council for the new tree lighting that was just installed on the full length of downtown Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful and brightens an otherwise dark main street. Your timing could not be better. The spirits of everyone in our community need a lift after a terrible year, and light symbolizes hope. The lights also signal the start of a slow rebound for our downtown.

This is also a great time to reconsider what type of downtown our community would like to exist a year from now. The current official vision for downtown, “to preserve its small-town character”, is neither a practical nor aspirational one. We deserve better and should aim a lot higher. A downtown that simply returns to the state existing before the pandemic would be disappointing. Even then, a dozen vacant storefronts marred Santa Cruz and many retailers struggled to survive, and that was during a booming local economy.

I recommend a new vision for our downtown. We can transform it into a special place to share with friends and family and make it a shining source of community pride. Downtown will remain a wonderful place for running errands; buying groceries; visiting many salons, cafes and restaurants. But it could offer a whole lot more. I believe many residents would love a downtown that is an attractive place to enjoy positive experiences including social activities, small performances, public art and outdoor dining. I also believe there are residents and business owners who are capable and willing to make this vision a reality.

The critical issue is that residents MUST be the ones that translate good ideas into successful ones. No one is going to do this work for us. Not our city government. Not the Chamber of Commerce. Not local businesses. They can, of course help, but highly motivated residents need to do whatever it takes to make each “program” a success. I encourage them to simply take the initiative and not wait for a grand plan. We will have a temporary downtown plaza for at least a year. Let’s make it a real community asset that is worth preserving. This is OUR public property; let’s make it special.

Beautiful Outdoor Dining Areas + Live Music

ROMA, Left Bank and Bistro Vida have already invested tens of thousands of dollars in beautiful outdoor dining areas, facilities many customers enjoy even more than traditional indoor dining rooms. Their outdoor dining areas go far beyond the typical temporary ones allowed during the pandemic. Residents should encourage more restaurants to create special outdoor dining areas. And the city should assure owners who invest in beautiful dining area they will have at least two more years to recover their investments. There is very little risk for the city to do this. Finally, city should ensure that all new outdoor dining facilities are safe and attractive.

The Left Bank, ROMA and Bistro Vida have recently added live music in the evenings. Live music elevates the dining experience and increases the competitiveness of downtown restaurants. Let's encourage other restaurants to also add music.

Public Art

Wall art enlivens streets in many US and Europe cities and could have the same positive affect here. It can add beauty, interest and humor to otherwise plain building surfaces. There are at least a dozen bare building walls near downtown Santa Cruz that are excellent locations for original art. Each work could be sponsored by either an individual or company, and thereby eliminate the need for any government funding.

Art could also be displayed in the vacant storefronts on Santa Cruz. Let’s fill these windows with paintings, photography, sculpture and intriguing objects. Refreshing the displays regularly would generate even more interest.

The half-dozen galleries in downtown already exhibit the art of exceptional artists. Yet I expect few residents ever see these wonderful works. Residents who are not potential buyers often feel uncomfortable entering high-end galleries. Let’s figure out how to make this art more accessible to more people. Perhaps, galleries would be willing to welcome residents with monthly open houses.

Plaza Entertainment

The following table is a wish list of the kinds of events and activities that residnts and businesses could stage in the temporary community plaza in front of Walgreen’s and Starbucks. Live performances, tastings, outdoor classes, exhibits, “pop-up’s – these are a small sample of a large number of opportunities.

So, who is ready to step forward and help?

Contact me if you want to explore how best to proceed.

View Some Great Dining Options Now

What is it worth to you?


Posted by winston katz, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 17, 2021 at 12:17 pm

winston katz is a registered user.

I like the idea, MP already does some of these. The table created is just a laundry list of everything and anything, many of which seem kinda boring IMO. I do like that you list "start up" in quotes, why. such an over used term. While I think these events could help, they will not actually lend permanence to the effort.

Posted by Iris, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Mar 19, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Iris is a registered user.

How about some basics first to help downtown be more attractive?
Some ideas:
Litter patrol - perhaps by volunteer groups since the property owners and litterers aren't taking care of the really messy sidewalks and parking lots.

No-litter and no-blight - if Menlo Park does not have such rules, it should!

Window murals for vacant properties - the Magnificent Mile in Coral Gables appears to require vacant storefronts to have colorful murals or posters in empty windows

Downtown garage (near the greatest need in the first full 2 blocks from El Camino) and repaved parking lots. Do these before the demand for parking picks up and the construction or repaving has less impact on businesses

Posted by Lauren, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Mar 19, 2021 at 9:47 pm

Lauren is a registered user.

Food for thought: It would also be easier to have more regular usage of the shops downtown if people lived above them and folks could have many of their own needs met through walking along Santa Cruz or using Caltrain. I love the idea of investing in the enjoyment of our downtown, but think housing could also solve some of the problems.

Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 20, 2021 at 9:24 am

dana hendrickson is a registered user.

Hi Lauren. I agree that more residents living near downtown would provide a boost - the more the better. Fortunately, the Springline housing at 1300 El Camino is building 163 new apartments.

Almanac Story - Web Link

Springline website -

Note: this new development will also add retail that will compete with downtown Menlo Park.

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