A&E

ShopTalk: Ming's still open, downtown retail moves out

MING'S NOT CLOSING AS PLANNED...

Talk about a long goodbye. Vicky Ching may know the restaurant business, but when it comes to initiating a major development, she needs a little more experience. The owner of Ming's Restaurant in Palo Alto is the first to admit that. "I've still got a lot to learn as a do-it-yourself developer," she said, referring to the multi-million-dollar project to demolish Ming's and construct a four-story Staybridge Suites and a new, smaller Ming's on the restaurant's current site, 1700 Embarcadero Road. Staybridge Suites, which will have 174 rooms, is part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group. "There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and they all have to fit in at the same time," Ching said. Originally scheduled to close for construction in March, and then rescheduled for June, Ming's is still in business and its immediate future is uncertain. "We'll now be open at least until this August, maybe longer -- possibly into next year. There are a lot of uncertainties," Ching said. First the financing fell through, "but now we're on solid ground," she said. The next problem was seasonal. "We need to dig deep underground for the hotel parking lot. That means draining all the water underneath this building and dumping it into the Bay. It's a huge undertaking. But there are major flooding concerns if we don't finish the underground project by November. That's the deadline the city gave us. ... Because of our own delays, there is now no way we will be finished by November. So we have no choice but to wait to begin digging until next spring, after the rainy season is behind us," she told Shop Talk. As a result, it's still business as usual as Ming's. Construction is estimated to take approximately two years once it starts. "I have to say I'm embarrassed," Ching said. "I feel a little like a carpet store, always telling customers I'm closing. It's disappointing, but at least my employees are happy about the delay."

DOWNTOWN OFFICE SPACE TAKES OVER RETAIL...

Two prime retail spaces in downtown Palo Alto are gone. The prestigious think tank Institute for the Future recently moved into 201 Hamilton Ave., at the corner of Emerson Street. The organization takes over the spaces of two retailers: the 10,000-square-foot site that was formerly Diddam's Party and Toy Store (Diddams left in 2010 and the double storefront has been vacant ever since) and the former Waterworks, the designer kitchen and bath showroom whose space was recently converted into a temporary home for an art gallery. The extended office space for Institute for the Future, a nonprofit that started 46 years ago and specializes in long-term forecasting, now takes up half a city block. "We're excited to have Institute for the Future headquartered on Hamilton but quite sad our downtown storefronts have changed over from retail to office. I'm not quite sure how this one happened," said an industry observer, adding that the likelihood of a commercial space reverting back to retail is almost non-existent. But Thomas Fehrenbach, Palo Alto's economic development manager, said that because Institute for the Future is a nonprofit, the move was considered a "permitted use within that zoning."

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Profit or nonprofit, it is very bad policy to allow further intensive office space use in the downtown area, given the traffic and parking problems that already exist. I imagine this organization's "futuristic" mindset will include the unfortunate trend to cram in even more employees per square foot than has traditionally been the case for "old-fashioned" offices (i.e., those that actually make something rather than operate in the virtual cloud of the future).


Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm

The only retailers who can make it downtown are the big names, such as Lululemon, where people will deal with the lack of parking because they want to buy Lululemon and there is nowhere near to buy it.

Ming's has rude service and the owner is probably losing business because of the confusion of whether it's open or closed. She needs some PR help.


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