Downtown landlords dig in for long recovery | News | Palo Alto Online |


Downtown landlords dig in for long recovery

Properties are slowly leasing, but where are the shoppers? City Council to discuss downtown zoning Monday

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Strolling down University Avenue, shoppers can easily see there aren't as many places to shop as there were a year ago.

"For rent" signs seem to be multiplying like bunnies -- and staying up for months and months.

"There's a widely held perception that if the landlord weren't so greedy all the spaces would be leased," said Jonathan Goldman, senior vice president of Premier Properties Management, Palo Alto.

But Goldman, who's been in the business for 13 years, disagrees.

He points to the space vacated by Stanford Bookstore two years ago that sat and sat.

"We just leased it for significantly under the going rate," he said, noting that he's never seen rents advertised for under $3 to $4 a square foot.

"We could have taken a tenant a year ago for $2 but there were no tenants," he said.

The new lease, to The Natural Mattress Store, is short-term; if the tenant succeeds and decides to stay, the "opportunity" to rent will be at a higher rate, he added.

Vacant ground-floor retail spaces along University Avenue and nearby side streets range from a 1,000-square-foot former art gallery on Bryant Street to the 13,200-square-foot space on University Avenue vacated in March by Z Gallerie (which was temporarily rented as Spirit Halloween). Rents range from $3 to $7 per square foot, with many simply listed as "negotiable," according to Goldman.

All told, about 16 percent of the 600,000 square feet of space is vacant in the downtown "core" zone, along University Avenue from Alma to Cowper streets, including the little side streets and parts of Lytton and Hamilton avenues, Goldman said.

That's of concern to Palo Alto officials. The city has an ordinance that states retail space can be rented out as office space when the vacancy rate exceeds 5 percent. But retail tends to draw shoppers to the business district.

In September, the Planning and Transportation Commission considered staff recommendations to change the ground-floor retail rules. The commission voted to recommend removing the 5 percent trigger, meaning that retail space cannot convert to office space in the downtown core regardless of how much vacant space exists.

It also voted to add ground-floor retail requirements to buildings on the south side of Hamilton Avenue between Emerson and Ramona ("the strongest block of retail") and to half-block of Emerson including the Aquarius Theater and two restaurants.

And they voted not to remove protection from University Circle and along Alma Street and portions of High Street near Hamilton Avenue.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss changes to the ground-floor retail rules on Monday. (View downtown zoning map)

Goldman isn't advocating turning retail space into offices, but he is circumspect.

"If (office space) is the only thing that can survive, you need to do something. You don't want boarded up buildings in your neighborhood," he said.

"We're all scared -- landlords, tenants -- of University Avenue converting to office" because no one's going to shop at a store in the middle of a block of offices, he said.

Ultimately, he says landlords make more money from retail on University Avenue than office. But, "the reality is, it doesn't matter how cheap you make it, there are a lot of people who really can't afford to pay the rent," he said.

Goldman said vacancies sometimes occur because businesses become obsolete or marginalized.

"The Bead Shop is a perfect example," he said, noting that much of the bead business is conducted online today.

Pointing to downtown vacant storefronts, Goldman said, "Some were victims of the economy, others of a changing world. The problem is there's no new trend."

In 2001, it was nail salons and yoga studios.

"Other than yogurt, we're not seeing any growth industry. We're not seeing national retailers. It's been bleak," he said.

Sam Arsan of Arsan Realty, which partners with Premier Properties on some downtown listings, has never seen downtown so empty.

"What we're going through is unprecedented, in terms of the economy everywhere," he said. "The level of interest has dropped by a good 70 percent from a year ago."

But that doesn't mean nothing can be done to help.

Arsan hears complaints from merchants about the "vagrancy" issue and thinks the city should do more to control that, to encourage shoppers to come downtown.

He does acknowledge that price can be a real deal-killer.

"Tenants are more leery to committing to paying $7 per square foot in an economy that shows no signs of improvement," he said.

Landlords are holding tight, trying to make their price point, but Arsan says it's still a supply-and-demand market.

"Where deals are going to be made will be lower than in the past couple of years," he said. "It's probably going to be a short-term thing; eventually the market will turn."

"I'm very enthusiastic about University Avenue. It's always been a strong retail market."

What people don't realize, he added, is most of the buildings downtown are individually owned, unlike Stanford Shopping Center. One merchant could be offered lower rent at Stanford because he attracts customers to the entire mall.

"To ask an individual owner to keep rent low to bring in a tenant that's good for the city, it doesn't make sense," he said. Some owners feel they need to renovate and upgrade their spaces, so they can get the traditionally higher rents downtown.

"That's his retirement. You can't blame anyone for trying to maximize their investment," Arsan said.

University Avenue is really no different from nearby "Main Streets," said David Blatteis, principal of Blatteis Realty Co., San Francisco. "Palo Alto is in the same league as Burlingame Avenue, Fourth Avenue in San Mateo, Union Street or Chestnut Street in San Francisco. They all have more vacancies than they ever have before."

More recently, "Owners are seeing the light and are willing to lower the rents. We're starting to see more interest in coming back into these vacant stores," he said.

In August, a lease was signed for 370 University Ave., the 2,800-square-foot former home of The Golden Loom. GameStop, which sells electronic games for adults and has more than 5,000 stores around the world, is in the process of redoing its remodeling plan to conform to the city's environmental requirements, Blatteis said.

The building owner was originally asking $7 a square foot, but came down to about $5.60/square foot a month.

While the store is unlikely to open before the holidays, Blatteis is optimistic about its impact on University Avenue.

"There was nothing like it on the street. They're big advertisers. They'll help attract more shoppers to the street."

Most problematic on University Avenue are the larger properties, including 180 University, which used to house Magnolia Audio Video, and of course, Z Gallerie, at 340.

"Z Gallerie will be impossible," Goldman predicted, but Arsan takes a more mellow view: "High profile is sometimes tougher to lease. It just may take longer than expected."

While only a couple of months ago Arsan was prepared for "some pain in the next year or two," he's expressing more optimism this week.

"I'm showing space more than in the past six months. People are starting to at least look and maybe start new businesses," he said, adding that he's signed four deals in the last two months, including a couple of new apparel stores downtown -- Premier Boutique on Ramona and Orapa Boutique on Hamilton.

Goldman is a bit more guarded: "It's going to be a long period of recovery for downtown."

In the meantime, "There are a lot of people with a dream," he said. "Landlords are being very flexible. If someone wants to try something for a year, they're getting a deal of a lifetime."

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2009 at 9:52 am

Downtown is not inviting. I would rather go downtown Mountain View, Downtown Los Altos or even downtown San Carlos (just found that recently) because it is inviting.

Close University to traffic, get some pavement cafes, get some atmosphere from lunchtime jazz or Saturday small art shows. Get Paly/Gunn choirs or similar singing/performing, create a reason for us to go there. I know we have huge fairs and festivals, but smaller ones each Saturday or Sunday would mean that some of us would habitually go downtown just to see what was going on.

Also some seating not attached to any one restaurant, but where one person can buy pizza and another a deli sandwich and sit together and eat in pleasant surroundings would be nice.

Get people to come to downtown and then they will peruse the shops. At present, there is nothing to draw someone there. Most of the shoppers are probably downtown workers!

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2009 at 10:35 am

+1 on the close University to traffic. A capital idea!

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 10:53 am

Downtown has very serious issues. There are too many bums there, and this prevents the placement of outdoor seating. Panhandling is another, related, issue. Just last week, some employess requested police protection at night, for their personal safety, when they refused to sell booze to bums. Castro does not have this problem, becasue the MV police keep the bums out.

What is the reason to to Downtown?

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Posted by Palo Alto Born and Raised
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:13 am

I love downtown Palo Alto... but last night my wife and I went to downtown Los Altos for dinner, and I realized while walking Main St. in Los Altos, that our downtown used to be a bit more like that. You could actually do some shopping in Los Altos - downtown PA is becoming pure chains because rents are so dang high. No we have what used to be Liddicoats, and what used to be Z Gallerie, rented by that crappy halloween store. Now if we want really good Mexican food, I have to drive to Los Altos like I did last night (Case Lupe), or to Los Gatos to get Andale, which was run out of Palo Alto after more than 10 years because of incredibly high rent. Last night in Los Altos I noticed the locally owned restaurants and cafes, easy parking, cool shops, etc - a place where you could actually park, window shop, get a bite to eat, etc. Downtown Palo Alto has way too many low quality yet extremely overpriced high-end restaurants, horrendous parking/traffic, and no real shopping. Anyway - I'm done with my rant.

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Posted by George
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:29 am

> Get people to come to downtown and then they will peruse the shops.
> At present, there is nothing to draw someone there.

Hmmm .. and the products and services in the shops have no intrinsic value? Are we to believe that people who buy things in the downtown shops do so only as "impulse buys"?

> downtown Mountain View, Downtown Los Altos or
> even downtown San Carlos

And all of these cities have closed their main streets in downtown to traffic?

> lunchtime jazz or Saturday small art shows

The City has provided brown bag concerts downtown during the summer for many years now. The Art stores are free to provide "art shows" if they want. In fact, they did have an "Art Walk" several year ago, but it seems that they served "wine" (for free) which upset at least one blue nose/resident who alerted the Alcohol/Beverage Control Department, who got involved and so the "Art Walk" ceased.

There Internet and digital technologies have changed a lot. Analog photography is long doomed, and stores selling analog equipment have either moved on, or will be doing so soon. It is difficult to want to not use on-line travel arrangements these days--cheaper and you are in control. Books are being replaced by e-books, or on-line purchasing via companies like Amazon. Video is moving on-line, and it's likely that video rental places will be fewer in the future. All of this disruption will result in fewer retail stores in high rent locations.

Oh .. by the way .. the City Council authorized a "Business Improvement District" (BID) some years ago, which has exacted about $1M in fees so far, seems to be missing from this Weekly article on the problems with Downtown. What is the BID doing with the $250K a year? For the folks who might like a little "entertainment" with their shopping .. ask the BID people what the word "Improvement" means ?

Time to kill the BID, and maybe get the Chamber of Commerce earning its keep by becoming active in identifying and championing the issues which the merchants/business owners think are hindering business development in the downtown area. There is no one on the City Council that knows anything about running small retail businesses. And even if they did, they will not stand up for small businesses.

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Posted by An Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:32 am

It should be obvious that the super high rents have driven out the places that attract shoppers and diners.

Stop waiting for taxes, fees from homeowners to bail out downtown landlords.

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Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:42 am

When I think of downtown Palo Alto (e.g. University Avenue), I think of slow-moving traffic and hard-to-find parking. This is a disincentive for me to go there. Plus, because it's considered "upscale," I assume that I'll pay a premium for, say, a cocktail. Hence, I'll ask myself, what's easy to drive to, park and where the prices are reasonable. I may not get all three criteria met but I think you get my point. High cost + high hassle factor = discentives.

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Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:43 am

Take a page from Town and Country's book. You practically have to fight to get a parking place and walk around there. They must be doing something right.

o They lowered the rent.
o No bums and panhandlers (I know it's private property.)
o It feels safe there at night.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:45 am

Closing University Ave is a terrible idea. Traffic moving through the downtown corridor invites people in cars to see what is available in the area. Having the space to walk or stroll is not the problem in downtown. Good god, have you walked University in the afternoon lately? Foot traffic is way down. Pedestrian corridors are not an answer. You cannot "Santana Row-ize" an organic (not crunchy organic but naturally occurring organic) retail street. The ability to control the shopping environment is just not there. And just think, when times were good the parking was very tight. Can you imagine closing off all that parking and then returning to good times? As good times surely will return.

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Posted by We can do better
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:49 am

I feel impatient with the landlords who push rents too high. High rents push out the diverse small businesses that gave downtown character and made it a fun dining/shopping experience. In their greed, they degraded the ambience of downtown and lost foot traffic, and now they are suffering for it. Maybe it's a good thing they have to offer a few "deals of a lifetime." That will draw the kinds of wonderful small businesses that made our former downtown so colorful and enjoyable. Maybe then they will learn that by charging reasonable rent they can keep a diverse arrray of shops and and create ambience that draws customers, improving profitability of businesses...minimizing vacancies. A win for everyone.

Downtown looks more and more Stanford Shopping Center. If I want that, I'll go to the mall. Downtown landlords should be trying to differentiate the downtown environment from the malls. If they don't, they will continue to lose customers and increase vacancies. Los Altos and Mountain View are eating Palo Alto's lunch and, to a large extent, it's the landlords' own fault.

City of Palo Alto also must do a MUCH better job at supporting existing businesses and providing new businesses with incentives and help to open here. I hope our new Council will focus on this as they all promised they would during their campaigns.

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 12:11 pm

The Downtown business district should be deeded by the city to a consortium of Downtown landlords and business owners. That would mean that the sidewalks and streets would be privately controlled. This would make it more like Town and Country. Private security could keep the bums out. There is enormous potential for Downtown, but not while it is under the public ownership of the city.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Stores like Vian Hunter and Charmosa and the art gallery on Bryant are sorely missed, replaced by tanning salons and waxing salons - that is not the way to generate retail desire. University and its side streets need building landlords to not just lease, but lease to businesses that will bring us downtown repeatedly. I used to do so much shopping on Bryant street and no go to BGame ave or into SF - so sad!!!

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Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I've noticed that panhandlers target older pedestrians and really get in their faces. Police plainclothes foot patrols are in order here.

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Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Landlords are keeping spaces empty in order wait and get the "going rate?" If they can't find renters at what is referred to as the "going rate," then perhaps what they call the going rate is a fantasy and the going rate is in reality much, much lower. Having watched over the years so many long time established stores forced to go out of business (or relocate and try and start all over again somewhere else) because of landlords raised the rent beyond what was sustainable for our local mom and pop stores, then to some extent this is what they have brought on themselves. Now there's not much to go to the University area to shop for. Also if the parking was three hours it would be much more worthwhile to come downtown. The 2-hour parking does not leave enough time for a coffee or meal with a friend and to stroll University Avenue to shop.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 6, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Rents are high, there is nowhere to park for any length of time; shopping on University Avenue is a looser. Perhaps they'd improve it by cutting down all the trees!!!!

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Posted by soccer mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I wonder if Prop 13 is having an impact? Owners of long held commercial properties lack an incentive to rent at lower rates since they do not have to pay current market rate property taxes. Some may have very low mortgages or have paid off the property entirely. It is in the property owners best interest to let the building stay vacant rather than lower the floor for rents in the future. Their carrying costs are relatively low. If we want a vibrant down town, we need to examine the impact of Prop 13.

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Posted by reality chica
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2009 at 2:16 pm

The economy is going to get *much* worse before it gets better - don't believe the "green shoots" nonsense. We've only just completed the subprime real estate mess and are now entering the alt-a, prime, and commercial debacle. Landlords will lower rent or face vacancies. The best positioned landlords will be able to lower rents enough to accommodate tenants long enough to get through this down-cycle. Unfortunately some landlords won't be able to do this so they will foreclose. It would probably benefit the city to find some use for the vacant retail space in the meanwhile if only to help with vagrancy problems.

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Posted by Maria
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Sam Arsan is wrong to say that the building in downtown are "individually owned." Last time I checked the vast majority of the spaces were controlled by four individuals that all know each other, making the pricing of the real estate market in downtown Palo Alto a defacto monopoly. It's too easy to set prices this way and not have an efficient market.

In a way this is worse than the Stanford Shopping center which one landlord at least maintain the place keeps the place with a consistent mission, style, and feel. What we have in downtown is place with a random shops, catering to random people. Palo Alto's demographics are not random; they are very specific and some city planning group needs to actively act as the gatekeeper to the spaces in downtown. Too bad that the city doesn't find it important enough to commit an effort to this.

I also agree with everyone about the transient problem. It's totally out of control! And the police do little to reinforce the problem.

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Posted by ex-Palo-Alto-resident
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Four months ago, I almost started my business in Palo Alto. My greedy landlords of four years told me that he always rented out the house well below the market. Last year, our rent was raised by almost 10 percent at a time when we were travelling internationally for more than a month (my wife 1 month, my kid 2 months, I 3 months). This year, they would keep the rent unchanged. We felt that the rent should have been lower, especially since we could stay for many more years longer than average renters. However, we didn't feel good about staying for more years, because the landlords were always assuming that their rents were very low. So we moved away. Our new place is a MUCH larger, quieter, and CHEAPER place in Los Altos (yes, another expensive city). After we moved out, our previous landlords remodeled that place a little bit, and tried to raised the rent by about 10%. They couldn't find a renter. Then they kept the rent unchanged. Still no taker. Finally, they had to lower the rent by almost 10%, back to our rent two years ago. (They posted the ad in Craigslist.) I guess that they finally learned about the reality of the local renting market. It was hard to move, and hard to settle down. We spent almost 2 months on finding a place, moving, and settling down. We lost a lot of time. My starting-up schedule was delayed by over 3 months. We tried our best to stay in Palo Alto, but the rent there generally was just not attractive. There are just too many greedy landlords in Palo Alto. When they can't rent out SO MANY of their places, their rents must be too high. They are turning away people and business. Their blaming the city is just too dumb.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2009 at 9:59 pm

The Palo Alto downtown homeless and panhandling problem is out of control. Some"unhoused residents" (the city's terminology) are very verbal and do frighten senior citizens. It's particularly bad around Walgreen's. Rarely is there a police presence. I am also afraid to go alone into the Bryant Street garage across from Avenidas. Downtown is going downhill fast, and a business license tax would have speeded up the downhill slide if more businesses move away. Destination Palo Alto? Not for me. i go to Los Altos or Menlo Park. It's safe and more pleasant. Wake up, City Council, and get your head out of the 'green clouds".

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Posted by Freedom of Speech
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2009 at 12:42 am

How does City Council not pay attention to their surrounding sister cities and see the diverse tax base? When will they pay attention? Mountain View is doing what Palo Alto wants to do. MV is innovative. MV and EPA have allowed those horribly big box stores in, and look what they have done. Oh my, they generate lots of revenue. I gasp, even that horrible box store Nordstrom Rack. Ugh, all those tax dollars. Are you getting your tax dollars worth from your City Council? From the REAL tone of these comments, I say community anger over lack of business should be the responsibility of YOUR City Manager and YOUR City Council. They budget YOUR tax dollars. Are they leading the City in the direction YOU want to go? What are they doing to keep businesses here? Oh yes, they draft up a business tax law with ridiculous language that would drive stores to more affordable real estate, which will most likely be MV or EPA. We welcome you.

Come on down to Mountain View shop around town all day, follow it with an evening stroll and dine on the patio. Possibly stop by the the 101 University Shopping Center, then travel back to your town and thank your City Manager for doing the best job he can do for YOU with YOUR TAX DOLLARS.


Freedom of Speech

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Posted by not rocket science
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2009 at 12:44 am

The article says:

There's a widely held perception that if the landlord weren't so greedy all the spaces would be leased," said Jonathan Goldman, senior vice president of Premier Properties Management, Palo Alto.

But Goldman, who's been in the business for 13 years, disagrees.

He points to the space vacated by Stanford Bookstore two years ago that sat and sat.

There's the problem. Landlords with short-term memories for everything except the times when they could jack prices through the roof. This was all inevitable when the market was hot and landlords pushed and pushed those rents into unsustainable territory.

Giving tenants reasonable LONG-TERM stability in their rent, and not pushing their rent up to eat up any profit they make when they start to do well or when the economy improves, that would invite businesses to rent on University. Trouble is, business owners have a longer memory than the landlords and know better than to get suckered into renting there when rents are low, only to be shaken down later. It's traumatic for businesses to have to move because their rents continually go through the stratosphere.

If rents were low two years ago, it was a consequence of people remembering the boom and not wanting to touch those spaces because the rents are guaranteed not to remain reasonable.

"if the landlord weren't so greedy all the spaces would be leased"

This is absolutely true, but it takes a long-term view (the kind someone who wants to establish a business long-term would have) to understand. If the landlords had been a little more reasonable when times were hot, more of those businesses would still be there now.

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Posted by V
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2009 at 12:56 am

Basic cash flow concept people. If businesses are driven out via high rents, high taxes, higher costs of goods, what is the remaining tax base - real estate.

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Posted by John
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2009 at 8:45 am

There is a LOT more to commercial real estate than just rent price.

One thing that isn't talked about much is the length of lease being offered downtown. Most landlords (LLs) are willing to meet market demand on price (meaning low rent) but aren't willing to do longer than a short-term lease.

That simply isn't going to work for most businesses. No sense in developing and cultivating your customer base and location if you get priced out a year or two later and have to move. You might as well wait it out or go somewhere else.

And LLs are stubborn. They simply don't think they should have to offer lower rent to attract a tenant. That's fine, but then you can't really complain about having a vacancy.

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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2009 at 10:21 am

I am glad to hear the landlords side, I am sure that downtowns plight is not all their fault. University ave is just unappealing. It is dirty, congested, homeless filled. It is nothing like what it was in the 80s.

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Posted by PamK
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

"There's a widely held perception that if the landlord weren't so greedy all the spaces would be leased," "But Goldman, who's been in the business for 13 years, disagrees."

I have to disagree. There were numerous business owners that were doing pretty well and eventually left because of the "increased" rents. It looks like some of the landlords with vacant shops are now paying the price for driving them out. Lower the rents and then maybe you can keep some of the good businesses downtown. Many are struggling to survive and high rent just makes it that much harder.

Stores like "The Natural Mattress Store" don't fit in the category of making Palo Alto a shopping destination.

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Posted by PamK
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2009 at 10:47 am

I agree with robit noops

"University ave is just unappealing. It is dirty, congested, homeless filled. It is nothing like what it was in the 80s."

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2009 at 11:59 am

Take a couple hours and do the following:

Walk down University Ave, PA - places to eat, a few interesting shops, lots of unhoused entertainment, don't sit on the benches because they are someone's storefront for the day
Walk down Santa Cruz in Menlo Park - fun stores, nice restaurant, friendly people
Walk down Castro, Mountain View - great food, attend a play, go to a full service library, some interesting shops
Walk around Town and Country - good food, interesting shops, pretty landscaping, places to sit

Downtown Palo Alto had very few interesting or practical shopping destinations and has far too many unhoused people accosting those who would like to spend time downtown.

We need to make it welcoming for some interesting shops.
We need to make it more welcoming for shoppers and less welcoming for the aggressive homeless people.
Once Lytton Plaza reopens, I hope it will be home to more then the kids doing drugs and the random protesters.

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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Walk down California Ave in Palo Alto - no trees.

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Posted by an observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

How does a $30,000 to $50,000 rent per year compare to a $1000 per year business tax and this $1,000 figure is high for a retail business occupying about 1000 sq ft.

It isnt a nominal business tax that is driving out businesses.
It's long term high rents and converting street level space to non retail.

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2009 at 4:56 pm

"Once Lytton Plaza reopens, I hope it will be home to more then the kids doing drugs and the random protesters."

Unfortunately, it will not. CPA has, for about two decades, become the slave of the local churches and temples, which demand that bums be an exalted class, no matter the economic cost. We have been paying the price, and it is now too late to fix the situation. Downtown is going down, period. It will not be resurrected, until CPA gets out of the picture, by deeding the downtown to private interests.

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Posted by Maya Collins
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 7, 2009 at 6:52 pm

To "Born and Raised in Palo Alto":

I agree with much of what you said (esp about the ugly Halloween store where Z Gallery used to be..) but I had to post this in the hope you will read it because you think Palo Alto lacks "really good Mexican food". Maybe you were referring to downtown, but nearby (3 blocks from University) is an AMAZING place called La Morenita. It is family owned and operated, more authentic than Andale (although I was very sad when they left Univ), and well priced! Another good sit-down restaurant is the Oaxacan Kitchen (located near CA ave, and they have a stand at both the SAT and SUN farmer's markets in PA), or if you're looking for a quick bite to eat definitely check out Taco el Grullense (several locations, closest is near Happy Donuts on El Camino), they are very affordable and authentic. I hope you see this and enjoy!!

*Sorry this post is unrelated but I can't email individual posters.

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Posted by Palo altan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2009 at 1:43 pm

We loved Pizza My Heart but since all the panhandlers seem to gravitate to Pizza my heart vicinity we try to avoid it, and not dine in. I don't find it very safe for a family with young children. And yes that ugly halloween store has to go.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2009 at 6:43 am

Instead of closing University to traffic, why not make it one way heading eastbound starting at High Street? This would solve the problem of the single lane of traffic being blocked when someone is parking. Lytton could be one-way westbound to handle the westbound traffic. The traffic signals could be synchronized so that traffic going 20 mph on University and Lytton could hit a wave of green lights. (This assumes that the steel plates are eventually removed from Lytton so that it's possible to average 20 mph there.)

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Posted by Save downtown
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

I would like to suggest a farmers market similar to the one at the Ferry building in SF for the use of the old Liddicoats/Z gallery space. The space is too large to afford on its own so you would break it up into smaller spaces and have some fixed restaurants/stores and even local produce and such. The rent would be cheaper for the new entrepreneurs who would like to start up. There is a back door and it would creat a open air style of market

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Posted by Anna
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

University Ave needs more affordable restaurants like Castro Street. Right now if I want to spend $20 or less a person for dinner, I can only go to a handful of places and frankly, the quality of the food at those places aren't as good as the restaurants in Mountain View.

I walked down University a few weeks ago after dinner, I don't remember seeing any new places that I would try.

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Posted by Georgie Gleim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2009 at 6:36 pm

The Business Improvement District takes in less than $140,000 per year, far less than the $250,000 mentioned by an earlier poster. (Although that income would be nice and would allow a great many more activities!) The BID has sponsored or helped with a variety of downtown events: among them, the holiday strolls, the summer promenade in 2007, the downtown film festival of a few years ago, and the fashion show by the Boutiques on Bryant, which took place just before the Walgreen's fire; it has organized and run the Dine Downtown promotions, which twice a year brings additional traffic to our restaurants; it has helped make sure downtown is represented in a number of Stanford events. Recently the city has cracked down on the practice of restaurants putting tables and chairs on the sidewalk without proper permits. The BID has worked with the city to allow participating restaurants to come in under an 'umbrella' permit, reducing the permit fee by several hundred dollars for each restaurant and creating a design for a uniform look. The BID created the Downtown Streets Team which has used the street people to keep the downtown streets cleaner then they would otherwise be; more than 100 individuals have graduated from this program to steady, paid employment, and dozens have received housing. There are a number of other areas in which the BID has been able to represent the voice of small businesses for a better outcome, and it will continue to advocate for their interests wherever it can.

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Posted by Downtown Eater
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2009 at 2:22 am

Anna, there are in fact some good — and inexpensive — restaurants on University Ave., provided one likes ethnic food and doesn't require elegance (and, to keep it under $20, avoids alcohol). I love ethnic food, and also eating out, but I'm also a tightwad.

My favorites are Thaiphoon (on Emerson), Jing Jing (on Emerson), and Hyderabad House. I ate at Jing Jing tonight, and had kung pao prawns (lots of them), rice, and a soft drink, and with tax and a generous tip it still came to under $20. This price point is also easily doable at Hyderabad House, and it's possible at Thaiphoon as well if you pass on ordering the most expensive seafood. The quality is great at all three places. (Parking, however, is sometimes difficult, but then you already knew that.) I find the prices at these three places comparable to what I pay on Castro Street for similar fare.

Other places that offer inexpensive, good eats include Siam Royal, the gyros place on the corner of University and Cowper, a new Korean place next to Borders, Mango Cafe (on Hamilton) and Darbar (on Lytton).

My issue with University is more with the non-restaurant offerings. I don't wear designer clothes, use cosmetics, give expensive gifts, or furnish my home elegantly, so the high-end shops have nothing of interest to me. The only non-food places I patronize are Borders (I still miss Stacey's), and CVS for some sundries, and my husband occasionally patronizes the Apple store. So I have no problem with the supply of affordable restaurants, but there's not much else that will draw me to University Ave., with its parking hassles and street hasslers.

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Posted by George
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm

> The Business Improvement District takes in less than $140,000
> per year, far less than the $250,000

This year’s BID Annual Report suggests that the “take” for this crew is about $100K, due to about $34K of “uncollectable” billings. Presumably, this $34K is one example of businesses fleeing the downtown business zone.

The list of activities listed in the posting might justify the use of the money taken from the “members” of the BID, but it doesn’t come close to demonstrating how this money actually “improved” the business climate. With newspapers running feature stories of 12%-15% vacancies, this list of activities seems rather meaningless in the context of developing new and old business.

There is nothing that the BID has done that the Chamber of Commerce could not have done. In fact, if the Chamber had actually created a “downtown” group, and voluntarily solicited funds from its members, then most people would have likely been much more supportive of that action that getting the City involved with a “mandated by law” BID that can force people to pay them, but has no mandated functions to justify their existence.

The BID Annual report provides no sense of how business is doing in the downtown area, with no way to determine how effective this group is. Claiming that hiring "homeless people" to sweep the streets is hardly anything to be proud of, and is not likely to draw a lot of out-of-towners downtown to watch these folks "do their thing".

By the way, the following can be found on the Gleim web-site:

May 2009
University Avenue, Palo Alto Store Closing After 78 Years

So .. how’s that BID working out for you?

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