By PAUL CRAIG
Special to the Tribune
NOTE: Rotary Report is an update about featured speakers at Martinez Rotary Club meetings. Rotary meets once a week at Grace Episcopal Church, 130 Muir Station Road. For meeting times and other inquiries, visit www.martinezrotary.org.
Martinez is in a sweet spot. So says City Manager Brad Kilger. Brad has it right. Martinez is definitely in a sweet spot.
Brad and Leanne Peterson told Martinez Rotary about how downtown is changing fast – and for the better! The double billing occurred by accident. Leanne Peterson was our scheduled speaker; Brad is a prospective Rotarian who happened to show up. Synergism! The two interacted superbly, leaving the audience with a good feeling about how our town is changing.
To parse Brad’s quote a bit: Martinez is located within the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re in a place people want to be. We’re in a place with lots of jobs. We’re in a place undergoing a demographic shift towards young professionals. We’re in a place that has maintained its historic character; and a place with tradition.
Almost a decade ago the City Council passed an earthquake retrofit ordinance. Downtown buildings are largely brick, and are vulnerable to earthquakes. Fortunately, earthquakes have passed the City by; had a big one struck it could have wreaked havoc. The earthquake ordinance led to major changes. Some buildings were torn down. Some owners couldn’t do needed repairs and sold their buildings. Today, earthquake retrofit is either completed or underway. The incentive is great; buildings not retrofitted can no longer be occupied.
As older buildings are brought up to code, earthquake retrofit is not the only issue. Buildings must also be brought up to modern fire standards; they must meet ADA (American Disability Act) standards; they often need sewer and electrical upgrades.
Retrofit is expensive. But it’s worth it. Neat buildings and lots of foot-traffic means that rents will go up. That’s an unavoidable result of being in the right place at the right time. This can be tough on businesses which have long counted on low rents. But change is irresistible. Our brick buildings are expensive to fix up, but enormously attractive once the expenditures have been made.
The City of Martinez is in the process of recruiting for an Economic Development Director. The City is preparing to undertake a parking study in cooperation with the County. The County has committed to staying downtown. It’s going to take down the obsolete high-rise at 651 Pine St., and put in a structure between Escobar and Marina Vista. It will also build a two-level parking structure capable of holding about 300 cars. This will bookend the east end of Main Street. The parking study will focus on City and court needs, and how the needs to the City and the County mesh.
Leanne told us of some of the new businesses. Already in place are two coffee houses (States and Barrelista). Bar Cava sells wine and food – particularly Spanish tapas. Next door to Bar Cava, a yogurt place is going in. Saucie’s is about to become a classy pizza-by-the-slice place. The old Bow Rack building and the adjacent building a block off main street are about to become the home for two breweries: Five Suns microbrewery and Del Cielo. Citrus Salon is getting ready to move south across the street into the beautiful brick building formerly occupied by Rich Stahlberg photography. (Rich is still in business, at a different location.) Citrus’ present quarters will house “Mud Room.” The former Bank of America building has been sold and will probably become a restaurant. The former “Alley Cats” building is in escrow and will become a Greek restaurant. Lots going on! Things are changing by the day.
The days of empty downtown stores are almost behind us. Look for lots of young professionals and classy stores. Main Street revitalization is happening fast! Martinez’ beautiful brick buildings have long been a source of local pride. They’ve been at risk of falling down in an earthquake. Today they’re being fixed up. Main Street is getting revitalized. And it’s all happening right here, right now!