Redevelopment plan holds hope
Publication Date: Wednesday May 31, 1995

MIDTOWN: Redevelopment plan holds hope

Public-private venture to invigorate shopping center gets support

Midtown residents, merchants and commercial property owners are hopeful that the city's public-private redevelopment plan will pull their neighborhood shopping center out of its five-year tailspin.

Although it was nearly pre-empted last week by the Palo Alto City Council's discussion of the Varsity Theatre, there was time for about a half-dozen speakers to give their two cents on the proposed revitalization plan before Council members and the public succumbed to late-night yawns.

The Midtown plan will return to the Council for full discussion June 12, and Council members asked that it be near the top of the agenda.

Developed by the city's economic resources director, Carol Jansen, the plan calls for the multiple commercial property owners--primarily on the block anchored by the vacant Midtown Market and Bergmann's buildings--to come together and fund a conceptual master plan for the Midtown core area.

The city would play a facilitator role in bringing the property owners together and creating a forum for community input.

Contingent on the property owners' decision to fund the conceptual plan, the city would then hire a consultant to conduct a traffic study that would evaluate reconfiguration of Middlefield Road to two lanes and the proper location for a traffic signal entry into the shopping center.

The city would also retain a consultant to develop investment strategies for the property owners.

Phase two of the plan would involve the city investigating the development of a new "Neighborhood Shopping Center Zone" that would allow greater flexibility in the reuse of vacant properties.

To stretch that flexibility further, it is also proposed that a little-used, city-owned parking lot be used as credit for businesses in meeting parking requirements.

The Midtown Residents Association enthusiastically supports the plan, said Ron Wolf, a spokesman for the group.

"We're pretty happy that the focus is there, money is going to be spent and the problem is going to be kept on the front burner," Wolf said.

However, he said, there are four community concerns the neighborhood group would like to see given more emphasis in the report:

Direction to keep development and new stores to a "local scale"--meaning no Wal-Marts or super-sized Safeway markets.

The need to improve "pedestrian friendliness" through the commercial district, although the association hasn't taken a formal position on reconfiguring Middlefield from four lanes to two lanes.

The need to develop a community meeting place or common area, either in the form of an outdoor town square or an indoor community center.

That redevelopment be tailored to meet the day-to-day needs of residents with a variety of shops and services.

Dan Hanley, a San Jose attorney and an owner of the Midtown Market building, said he sees "no harm" in the property owners getting together to do a site development plan. "I see it as an exercise that may get people together on what they want to do."

And when the costs are spread over the eight or so property owners on the block, they're really quite minimal. A "pretty generalized" conceptual plan for the block is estimated to cost between $7,500 and $15,000, he said.

Hanley, too, emphasized the importance of neighborhood participation. "Obviously, you need to obtain the input of those who will be shopping there--you can't operate in a vacuum."

Hanley's main concern is that the city not get caught up in a merry-go-round of consultants' reports. The time is coming to use some "common sense and take some action," he said.

--Peter Gauvin 

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