But first, a BIG shout-out to the Menlo Park City Council for the new tree lighting that was just installed on the full length of downtown Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful and brightens an otherwise dark main street. Your timing could not be better. The spirits of everyone in our community need a lift after a terrible year, and light symbolizes hope. The lights also signal the start of a slow rebound for our downtown.
This is also a great time to reconsider what type of downtown our community would like to exist a year from now. The current official vision for downtown, “to preserve its small-town character”, is neither a practical nor aspirational one. We deserve better and should aim a lot higher. A downtown that simply returns to the state existing before the pandemic would be disappointing. Even then, a dozen vacant storefronts marred Santa Cruz and many retailers struggled to survive, and that was during a booming local economy.
I recommend a new vision for our downtown. We can transform it into a special place to share with friends and family and make it a shining source of community pride. Downtown will remain a wonderful place for running errands; buying groceries; visiting many salons, cafes and restaurants. But it could offer a whole lot more. I believe many residents would love a downtown that is an attractive place to enjoy positive experiences including social activities, small performances, public art and outdoor dining. I also believe there are residents and business owners who are capable and willing to make this vision a reality.
The critical issue is that residents MUST be the ones that translate good ideas into successful ones. No one is going to do this work for us. Not our city government. Not the Chamber of Commerce. Not local businesses. They can, of course help, but highly motivated residents need to do whatever it takes to make each “program” a success. I encourage them to simply take the initiative and not wait for a grand plan. We will have a temporary downtown plaza for at least a year. Let’s make it a real community asset that is worth preserving. This is OUR public property; let’s make it special.
Beautiful Outdoor Dining Areas + Live Music
ROMA, Left Bank and Bistro Vida have already invested tens of thousands of dollars in beautiful outdoor dining areas, facilities many customers enjoy even more than traditional indoor dining rooms. Their outdoor dining areas go far beyond the typical temporary ones allowed during the pandemic. Residents should encourage more restaurants to create special outdoor dining areas. And the city should assure owners who invest in beautiful dining area they will have at least two more years to recover their investments. There is very little risk for the city to do this. Finally, city should ensure that all new outdoor dining facilities are safe and attractive.
The Left Bank, ROMA and Bistro Vida have recently added live music in the evenings. Live music elevates the dining experience and increases the competitiveness of downtown restaurants. Let's encourage other restaurants to also add music.
Wall art enlivens streets in many US and Europe cities and could have the same positive affect here. It can add beauty, interest and humor to otherwise plain building surfaces. There are at least a dozen bare building walls near downtown Santa Cruz that are excellent locations for original art. Each work could be sponsored by either an individual or company, and thereby eliminate the need for any government funding.
Art could also be displayed in the vacant storefronts on Santa Cruz. Let’s fill these windows with paintings, photography, sculpture and intriguing objects. Refreshing the displays regularly would generate even more interest.
The half-dozen galleries in downtown already exhibit the art of exceptional artists. Yet I expect few residents ever see these wonderful works. Residents who are not potential buyers often feel uncomfortable entering high-end galleries. Let’s figure out how to make this art more accessible to more people. Perhaps, galleries would be willing to welcome residents with monthly open houses.
The following table is a wish list of the kinds of events and activities that residnts and businesses could stage in the temporary community plaza in front of Walgreen’s and Starbucks. Live performances, tastings, outdoor classes, exhibits, “pop-up’s – these are a small sample of a large number of opportunities.
So, who is ready to step forward and help?
Contact me if you want to explore how best to proceed.
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