Thou shalt paseo


Ask a handful of downtown business owners how they feel about demolishing two vacant buildings to make way for a pair of paseos on Monterey Street, and the answer repeats itself like a staggered chorus:

“I’m very excited.”

“A wonderful idea.”

“They can’t do it soon enough.”

“I can’t wait.”

Negotiations between the City of Gilroy and private downtown property owners are in the pipeline, seven years after the Nov. 21, 2005 Downtown Gilroy Specific Plan identified paseos and plazas as “key components of the downtown pedestrian fabric.”

The city is looking to purchase two properties on the west side of Monterey Street. One is located between Fourth and Fifth streets; the other is located between Fifth and Sixth streets. Staff expects to close the deal on one of those places in a couple weeks, according to Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro.

He describes the paseos as “linear, rectangular mini-parks.” The walkways will serve as aesthetic shortcuts from Monterey Street to the parking lots between Eigleberry Street and Gourmet Alley.

“Once the paseos are in, people don’t have to go around the block or down the alleyways,” said Pinheiro. “It will be nice and lit and we’ll have cameras, so people will feel safe going to and from the parking lots.”

Several store owners say they’re ready to get the ball rolling.

“I can’t wait, because it will give my customers less of an excuse to say, ‘Oh, but the parking is so far away,’” said Nimble Thimble owner Dave Peoples.

The paseos will be about 25 feet in width and about 125 feet in length, although this is subject to the final location. They will have lighting, surveillance cameras, landscaping, tables and benches; and might include focal elements such as fountains, special paving, trees, potted plants and flags or banners. The intention is to create comfortable niches for enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend, eating lunch outside and showcasing public art.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea. Let’s get it going,” said Leedo Art and Framing owner Charlie Clark Wednesday.

“Customers complaining about parking is an issue down here,” he continued. “The paseos will make it easier for the public to get downtown.”

The plan is to develop two paseos – likely one at a time – in the span of a few years. Using money from its general fund, the city will foot the cost of purchasing the land parcels and razing the buildings. Because of stipulations surrounding real estate transactions, Pinheiro is not permitted to discuss the city’s budget for the paseo project, or disclose offers the city has made on downtown properties until purchase negotiations are cemented.

Six or seven community organizations involved in the creative visioning process will take it from there. They’ll be in charge of dreaming up the paseos’ aesthetic character – and raising the money to make it happen.

Participants include Nimble Thimble owner Dave Peoples, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, the Gilroy Historical Society, the Downtown Business Association, the philanthropic nonprofit Gilroy Foundation and the Public Art Committee, which is under the city’s Arts and Culture Commission.

The cost of outfitting the paseos could start between $50,000 to $100,000; a rough estimate by Brian Bowe, executive director of the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

That’s shot in the dark guess, however. Community groups participating in the effort come with “very skilled and talented local contractors,” Bowe pointed out, “so the work could potentially be donated at cost.”

The Downtown Business Association is considering contributing $100,000 to the project, according to DBA Board Member Eric Howard.

“That’s the number that’s been kicked around,” he said. “The DBA has discussed we could possibly do that.”

Some of that money would come from restricted funds set aside by the DBA; the rest would have to be fundraised, Howard said.

The DBA also wants to focus on improving the parking lots along Gourmet Alley. Adding landscape and better lighting in the next few years is an area of focus, Howard said.

While emphasizing his ideas are just examples, Pinheiro brainstormed two possible themes for the paseos. He described themes of “Gilroy’s Sister Cities” and “Historical Gilroy.”

“I could envision one of the walls having a world map depicting each one of our sister cities, and a little bit of information about each one of them,” he said.

Councilwoman Cat Tucker said she’s in favor of the concept, but pointed out the stars must align before the city moves forward with its plans.  

“It all has to be the right combination of things,” she said Thursday over the phone. “We’re not going to go over aboard and pay an outrageous amount of money just because the property owner seems to think their property is more valuable.”

Dealing with unreinformced masonry buildings (URMs) complicates the process.

“If you tear down a middle building, you have to reinforce the wall of the existing building,” Tucker reminded.

It is unknown which specific lots the city is looking to buy. Pinheiro cannot disclose the locations at this time.

However, Steve Ashford, owner of Ashford’s Heirlooms at 7547 Monterey St., has overheard two possible properties under consideration. One is the former location of Mafalda’s Bridal Shop at 7539 Monterey St. (north of Old Bank of Gilroy). The other is a 1920s URM building at 7453 Monterey St. (two buildings north of the Bike Center).

The latter building “is the basis for understanding downtown Gilroy,” according to the City of Gilroy’s Historic Resources Inventory. “Its removal would cause irreparable damage to the distinctiveness that creates downtown Gilroy.”

A business called Oliveira’s Brownbuilt Shoes was located here from 1926 through 1930, according to the inventory. As for the shape and form Gilroy’s paseos, a comprehensive overview of design guidelines for the City of Gilroy was drafted in January 2008 by a landscape architecture group Bellinger Foster Steinmetz.

The draft depicts a melange of design possibilities, studying paseos in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and San Jose. It catalogues examples of wrought-iron archways, decorative plants, segmented benches (to deter skateboarders and sleeping loiterers), bicycle racks, fountains, trash receptacles and types of paving.

“The paseos could be considered as ‘strings of pearls’ in the downtown, with each paseo having a distinct art feature,” it states.

All ideas for the paseos must go before City Council for approval.

When asked if he’s encountered any opposition to the project – specifically the demolishing of historical downtown buildings – Pinheiro said he’s received nothing but good feedback.

“I think Mayor Al has done very good homework so far,” said Howard. “The paseo idea has been around since 2005, and I’ve heard nothing but good responses about it. Everyone is excited.”

However, that doesn’t include Katelyn Riley, 25, a local who shopped at Mafalda’s Bridal Shop Wednesday on the corner of Fifth Street. Riley, who has lived in Gilroy for more than two years and likes to eat at OD’s Kitchen, thinks downtown is already easily accessible.

“If they’re not going to create more parking, I don’t think it will help,” she said. “Why not just take a sidestreet?”

Among several business owners sampled Wednesday, Gilroy Antiques owner Gracie Garcia was also skeptical.

“I think it’s a ridiculous expenditure. There’s a paseo at the Chamber that’s open during the day,” she said, referring to the covered walkway between Fifth and Sixth streets that dissects the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce and the Garlic Festival Association headquarters. “I think the Chamber should leave it open (all the time).”

Garcia said the city suffers from “feebidy” (her term for “fear of beauty”).

She thinks the city should put the paseo money toward making downtown more beautiful by planting trees that “actually bloom and smell nice.”

Bowe said the existing paseo adjacent to his office gets a lot of foot traffic – but it’s locked at 5 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on the weekends to prevent break-ins and vandalism.

He would like to see the new paseos strike a “careful balance of functionality, but with a very pleasing aesthetic. Something that makes you feel good about meandering through there.”

Mango Street Kids owner Amber Madrone views the paseos as another stepping stone in helping downtown become a centralized artery for Gilroy’s social pulse.

“The access to parking will be huge. Right now it feels detached,” she said, pausing to chat Wednesday between customers. “I’m excited about the visioning process. We need to continue to create that feeling that we want downtown to be a gathering area.”

– The city incorporated paseos and plazas into its Nov. 1, 2005Downtown Gilroy Specific Plan.
– Paseos are pedestrian passageways that add dimension andimprove connections to the downtown pedestrian network. Gilroy’spaseos will offer mid-block connections between main sidewalks ofMonterey Street to public parking spaces between Gourmet Alley andEigleberry Street.
– The city is in negotiations to purchase one property betweenFourth and Fifth streets, and another between Fifth and Sixthstreets. Existing buildings on those properties will bedemolished.
– Community groups involved in the visioning process will beresponsible for funding the paseos’ aesthetics. Expenses areexpected to be between $50,000 to $100,000 (that number could growhigher, as planning continues).
Click here for a quick jump to the City of Gilroy’sdowntown paseo guidelines. Here you can read about paseo conceptsand paseo design elements.

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