Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - January 8, 2010

Saving their icons

Cities use planning, redevelopment to retain gathering spots

Other cities are taking a variety of approaches to keeping their cultural resources alive.

The City of Cupertino negotiated with the owners of the Vallco Fashion Park shopping mall, now renamed Cupertino Square, to retain the Cupertino Ice Chalet skating rink.

Supported by their General Plan policy, city officials make a point to ask developers to retain existing community space or plan another public benefit when redeveloping an area, according to Dave Knapp, Cupertino city manager.

Redwood City has queried its residents about places and activities they cared about and want to protect in their community, according to City Manager Peter Ingram.

The city created a "visionary document" and a new General Plan that includes stronger protection of places of historical interest and community benefit, he said.

Courthouse Square, a centerpiece of the city's vision, serves as a large community gathering space for performances and activities in the center of downtown.

The city used redevelopment funds and developed the square, which surrounds the historic San Mateo County Courthouse and houses the San Mateo County History Museum.

The public space is highly popular, with residents flocking to everything from free movies on a giant screen to a salsa festival and dance classes.

But economic forces have also conspired to disrupt the downtown vision.

The historic Fox Theatre, an anchor for Redwood City's recreational space plan, recently closed and is in receivership, Ingram said.

City officials are considering ways to keep the Fox a theater, including a possible purchase of the building.

"But we're worried about it. The state is taking redevelopment funds, so it would be a stretch," he said.

The city could also consider an emergency moratorium that would preclude different uses for the building, he said.

"If a church group wants it for a church, that doesn't do the public square much good," he said.

— Sue Dremann

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