Walnut Creek reveals new downtown plan

WALNUT CREEK (BCN) — Food trucks are coming to downtown Walnut Creek, along with wall
murals, expanded outdoor movies and music events, parklets and a new mini
plaza, among other attractions.
It’s all part of a $400,000 effort — approved by a 4-1 vote of
the City Council on Tuesday — to enhance the downtown area while major
sections of the city’s retail corridor are under construction.
But, it may also help to lay a foundation for pedestrian-centered
activities at a time when the city is adding more than 1,000 housing units
either downtown or nearby, according to Community and Economic Development
Director Sandra Meyer.
“The downtown has been the heart of the community for a very long
time and unlike most suburban cities, Walnut Creek maintained its downtown as
the center throughout the post-WWII suburban boom,” Councilwoman Cindy Silva
Silva, along with Mayor Bob Simmons, were two council members
assigned to participate in the Downtown Enhancement Initiatives Working
Group, which was approved by the council in November last year.
The group, which includes members representing business,
transportation and the arts, was tasked with determining the “highest and
best uses for the money to make it a welcoming downtown,” Simmons said.
The initiatives are funded partly through a development deal with
Macerich, the real estate firm that owns the Broadway Plaza shopping center,
which is currently undergoing a massive rehab, and partly from the sale of
property at 1500 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Meyer said.
“The City Council has a policy that if (the city) receives money
for the sale of property or through development agreements, it should be used
for one-time projects,” Meyer said.
In light of the increased construction in the city’s center, Meyer
said the council wanted to make sure people maintained their interest in
coming downtown.
The council approved 13 programs or projects — some of which may
require additional funding sources — that are either meant to beautify the
streets or enhance the level of activity on them.
Some of the beautification initiatives include painting utility
boxes, adding flower planters and banners, commissioning wall murals,
creating parklets out of parking spaces and building a “checkerboard” plaza
complete with tables, chairs and oversized chess pieces.
The activities include an annual Oktoberfest, a monthly First
Wednesdays street fair, a weekly food truck event, expanded outdoor music and
movie showings, an outdoor stage at the Lesher Center for the Arts and mobile
phone-based tours highlighting the city’s heritage and arts scene.
“We all had the same vision for Walnut Creek being vibrant and
being a great place to live, work and play,” Diablo Regional Arts Association
executive director Peggy White said. “This project gave us something that can
have an everlasting impact on making Walnut Creek continue to be the great
city we all love.”
The infusion of new residents will be “a shot in the arm” for the
city’s retail corridor, said Walnut Creek Downtown president and BH
Development owner Brian Hirahara.
For him, much of the goal in enhancing the downtown is to increase
foot traffic and spur retail sales. Walnut Creek Downtown, a business
association, began sponsoring “First Wednesdays” in December. In the first
few months since its inception, Hirahara said attendance has grown from a few
hundred to around 500 people.
“We’ve more than doubled the attendance, especially as the weather
gets warmer,” Hirahara said. “We wanted to, in a sense, extend the weekend to
start on Wednesday because that’s typically a slower night.”
Much like the First Fridays event in Oakland, Walnut Creek’s First
Wednesdays provide food trucks, live music and other entertainment.
While many of the items approved by the council on Tuesday have
been tried before in Walnut Creek, Simmons said this time around, the city is
hoping the efforts will be a little more successful.
He’s also hoping that some of the ideas the city hasn’t tried –
adding parklets, creating a weekly food truck night, building a
“checkerboard” park – will help strengthen the program’s success.
“Some of it is a continuation, but we’re also trying to make it a
little more successful,” Simmons said.
An influx of new residents will go a long way to increase the
vitality of the downtown, but Simmons stressed that most of suburban city
won’t change at all.
“We’re just talking about the area near downtown and the area near
BART,” Simmons said, adding the greater density will help the city combat
sprawl, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the number of people
walking around and enjoying the city center.
“Even the buildings that are apartments for rent, they’re not
inexpensive places,” Simmons said. “We’ll get a good quality of people who
want to move into a setting that is a little bit on the urban side but is
still very suburban.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s