New life for city’s heart?

GILROY
– City leaders who visited an East Bay neighbor for a firsthand
look at a successfully revitalized downtown acknowledge that
Pleasanton’s economic demographics give it a certain advantage over
Gilroy, but say there are still many things to be learned and good
ideas to be gleaned from that city’s e
fforts.
GILROY – City leaders who visited an East Bay neighbor for a firsthand look at a successfully revitalized downtown acknowledge that Pleasanton’s economic demographics give it a certain advantage over Gilroy, but say there are still many things to be learned and good ideas to be gleaned from that city’s efforts.

“Pleasanton’s downtown was a remarkable example of how a true public-private partnership can work,” said Susan Valenta, executive director of Gilroy’s Chamber of Commerce who organized the trip along with her former boss Dave Bouchard, now Pleasanton’s chamber director. “The city took the initiative to put capital dollars into the street and sidewalk, and the business community invested their private dollars into their businesses.”

A group of Gilroy merchants, business leaders and city officials toured downtown Pleasanton last week to see the secrets of that city’s success revitalizing its award-winning, vibrant downtown without a redevelopment agency.

The tour came just a day after Gilroy’s proposed downtown-area redevelopment agency was defeated at the City Council dias and roughly a week before councilmembers were expected to meet in a study session and discuss how else to pay for streetscape improvements along Monterey Road.

No one on the trip denied that Pleasanton’s demographics are a big difference between the two cities. While Pleasanton’s household income is around $95,000, Gilroy’s hovers around $65,000 or so – leaving less disposable income for downtown stores and restaurants.

But there are still good ideas to be had, attendees said.

“What comes out of this trip: the city’s realization that it can be done,” said David Peoples, president of Gilroy’s downtown association.

Councilman Al Pinheiro said he was “very impressed” with efforts from Pleasonton’s community.

“It just shows what can happen when the community commits to doing something and they have a receptive city staff and council,” he said.

Pinheiro admired a Pleasanton law that forced banks to locate branches downtown before they do in other parts of the city.

“We’ve got to get some of these anchors downtown to get foot traffic,” he said.

Peoples favored the city’s approach to its downtown association, where all Main Street businesses are required to join and pay annual dues, known as a Business Improvement District. The money is used for programs and events, as well as to market and promote downtown business.

“Granted, Pleasanton has a much larger commercial area in their downtown (500-plus businesses) than does Gilroy (150 businesses), but it’s just a matter of scale,” Peoples said.

Pinheiro also liked the business improvement fund.

“The benefits will be repaid,” he said. “That money goes right back into the area you received it from. I certainly think people would be open to that.”

Developer Gary Walton, who has built a new mixed-use residential and commercial building in Gilroy’s downtown and is renovating another, liked the sense of pride Pleasanton had for its downtown. City officials there will use the downtown as a major selling point when trying to attract industry and businesses.

“It shows how important (downtown) is,” Walton said. “The downtown can make or break whether or not a major employer moves into town. It’s part of a city’s pride.”

Walton said Gilroy needs a separate set of ordinances for its own downtown that reflect the unique, specific conditions and challenges there.

“It’s a separate animal,” he said. “It needs to have a separate set of ordinances that encourage use, because there’s no other place like a downtown. It’s a real mix, and you need ordinances that address that and don’t work against other people trying to improve the downtown.”

Having specific staff support or time devoted to the downtown also is important, Walton said. Pleasanton’s city planners are required to spend a certain percentage of their efforts on downtown – as much as three times as many planners – and its merchants association has the equivalent of two full-time employees.

“You need to have staff time allocated and the city needs to be a vital part,” he said. “In the long run, (the city) will benefit. They’ll benefit from the tax revenue and benefit just because it makes Gilroy a desirable place if they have a vibrant downtown.”

Valenta said it’s impressive how Pleasanton actually moved beyond the planning stages into reality.

“They got beyond the plan …” she said.

The openness and mix of old and new in that city also were positive, Valenta said, and she admired how that city worked closely with merchants.

Leave your comments