Quest for the real downtown Gilroy

Quest for the real downtown Gilroy

While residents, business owners, police and local officials
agree improving downtown Gilroy should be at or near the top of the
city’s to-do list, there’s one aspect they can’t seem to agree on:
What is downtown? Full story
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Today’s breaking news:
While residents, business owners, police and local officials agree improving downtown Gilroy should be at or near the top of the city’s to-do list, there’s one aspect they can’t seem to agree on: What is downtown?

Some more-experienced Gilroyans say downtown’s boundaries are simple and haven’t changed in decades, while others think the region should be amended to include just a few select streets.

Others still see downtown’s limits as constantly in flux, dependent on the coming and going of businesses and whether perceptions remain that the area is blighted and unsafe.

“It depends on how you look at it,” said Dave Peoples, owner of Nimble Thimble and Garlic City Mercantile. “It should be First through 10th, Railroad to Eigleberry. That’s how it’s been the past 30 years, maybe longer.”

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Local officials are taking a closer look at downtown, specifically at the corner of Fifth and Monterey, where the city’s first of six security cameras is keeping an eye on the central location 24 hours a day.

The Gilroy Police Department and Downtown Business Association, which have maintained that downtown is just as safe anywhere else in Gilroy, are partnering to purchase and install the state-of-the-art $50,000 security camera system to help curtail crime and quell residents’ negative perceptions.

How downtown is defined will likely impact the Gilroy Police Department, which treats the area as Second through Ninth streets along Monterey Road and Railroad to Eigleberry according a problem-oriented policing project, Sgt. Chad Gallacinao said.

Based on those parameters, 43 crimes occurred downtown between January and June of this year, 31 of which happened between Fifth and Eighth streets on Monterey Road, according to a recently released GPD report.

Local developer and downtown building owner Gary Walton said defining downtown in narrower fashions ignores issues in surrounding neighborhoods that could spill into what many consider downtown.

“Downtown is not just Monterey. The perception of downtown is bigger than that,” Walton said. “It all has to do with what’s walkable.”

To Walton, what’s walkable is a 1,500-foot radius from what he considers downtown’s core, Fifth Street and Monterey Road: Second to Eighth streets, Chestnut to Dowdy streets.

Including those areas in downtown will help stakeholders address perceived, centrally located negatives.

“I think there’s a benefit to look at downtown as just a broader area,” Walton said. “Obviously something that happens at Eagle Ridge doesn’t affect downtown, but something that happens on Church Street does. A lot of bad influences, they don’t get in their car and drive downtown.”

Others agreed with the First-through-10th-streets standard, including Gilroy Chamber of Commerce President Susan Valenta, Sue’s Coffee Roasting Company barista Kim Summers, Vacuum Centers of Gilroy owner Mike Brownfield and Milias Restaurant co-owner Ann Zyburra.

“The 33 years I’ve been here, that’s what I’ve always considered it to be,” Brownfield said.

Summers shrugged, “That’s my feeling anyway.”

Others, however, say downtown should be more narrowly defined.

Though Amber Madrone, owner of Mango Street Kids, thinks downtown should also include Railroad and Eigleberry streets, she believes the area’s Monterey Road strip is best confined to Third through Seventh streets.

“First to 10th feels too big and spread out,” she said.

Joyce Duarte from antique shop Collective Past said she would shrink the boundaries even further.

“Third through Sixth – that’s downtown. Anything further down isn’t,” she said, singling out several bars and the Valley Transportation and Caltrain station on the area’s south end.

Adam Sanchez – Zyburra’s co-owner at the Milias Restaurant – opted for Fourth through Seventh and Railroad through Church, while Leedo Art & Framing owner Charlie Clark (Third through Eighth) and Wes’ Shoe Repair owner Jõb Camarena (Third through Seventh) considered Monterey Road’s main drag of businesses as the true downtown.

“I think the businesses at least get a start there. Anything past Baha Burgers really isn’t downtown,” Camarena said, referencing the longtime the burger joint which closed Aug. 11.

Not even Gilroy City Council members could agree on downtown’s boundaries, which are broadly laid out in the city’s Downtown Specific Plan.

Councilman Bob Dillon wrote via email Thursday the downtown area should be considered First Street to Tenth Street, with Third through Sixth streets as the downtown “core.” Fellow Councilman and lifelong Gilroyan Dion Bracco, however, said Fourth through Sixth streets – on Monterey Road only – is downtown in his eyes.

For planning and construction purposes, the city’s official downtown layout is broken into six districts, including the Downtown Historic District, which runs from Third to Ninth streets along Monterey Road.

The Downtown Expansion District brings in Tenth Street and roughly a block beyond it on Monterey Road, as well as First and Second streets. Eigleberry Street between First and Tenth streets comprises the Transitional District, and the Civic/Cultural Arts District rests between Sixth and Seventh streets and from Monterey to Dowdy Street. The Gateway District flanks the north and south ends of the area, while the Cannery District is made up mostly of Railroad, Lewis and Old Gilroy streets.

Councilwoman Cat Tucker said she recognizes the city’s downtown specific guidelines for planning purposes, “everyone has a personal definition, though.”

Tucker said she considers the downtown “core” Third to Seventh streets on Monterey Road, but if more businesses set up shop in and around downtown and unoccupied buildings become full, “then I would expand that beyond to past 10th Street.”

In June, construction began on a 14,000-square-foot retail and restaurant property along Monterey Road just south of 10th Street. The property, which will include the new home of Super Taqueria, is located within the city’s Downtown Specific Plan, City Planner Melissa Durkin said.

“The vision is to have a thriving downtown with many businesses,” Tucker said. “So, for me, the definition will change as we grow to include new business.”

She added, “I like to look in the windows and check things out. Usually the businesses is what will attract people to walk by and look in the window, so they will ultimately define the actual downtown.”

Even as new businesses spring up, downtown’s 31 unreinforced masonry buildings – the majority of which are vacant – will remain a hurdle to improving the area, business owners say.

The city has approved the demolition of three URMs along Monterey Road later this fall, making way for an expansion adjacent the Gilroy Arts Alliance’s interim Center of the Arts.

“A lot of the blighted buildings give that perception of run-down. That’s probably the biggest issue,” business owner Madrone said. “You’re walking past four empty buildings before you get to the next occupied one.”

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