North Fremont tax district looks to attract tourists and pedestrians.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
In 1995, when Richard Griffith bought the space where Griffith''s Furniture now sits on North Fremont Street in Monterey, it had been sitting empty for three years. Prostitutes and drug addicts were once a common sight in the area, and his property was no exception. Even after he moved into the vast hangar-like space and began selling dining room tables and beds, he says people still hung around the dark parking lot behind the building.
"It was a problem," he says, sitting at a cluttered desk behind the showroom.
Soon after, the parking lot got streetlights and now stays lit at night. The people who used the dark shadows of the big building have vanished.
Now Griffith and business owners all up and down the commercial strip of North Monterey between Highway 1 and Canyon Del Rey will be part of a so-called Business Improvement District, modeled after other similar city efforts in Old Monterey and New Monterey.
On Nov. 4, the Monterey City Council approved an ordinance forming the North Monterey Business Improvement District after over a year of work by a committee of area business and property owners. Once up and running, the improvement district will become the North Monterey Business Association.
In order to spruce up the area, the district will raise money for various streetscape improvements and increased advertising. According to a city report on the district, it will be funded through an assessment fee of 25 percent of North Fremont city business licenses. A business would not pay in more than $500 a year.
For Griffith, who says these are the worst economic times in 25 years, $500 is a pretty penny, but one he feels he has to find.
"Do I have a spare $500? Probably not, but I''m going to come up with it. If you want to see improvement you''ve got to cough up a little money," he says. "What I''ve seen Monterey do in other areas is progressive."
North Fremont does not have the shine or tourist foot traffic that''s found in a place like Cannery Row, which once had rough edges of its own. Indeed, the pedestrians seen along the busy connector road are usually either visitors wandering from motels for supper or locals making their way to a bus stop on one of the transit system''s busiest routes.
North Fremont also has a homeless contingent.
But Bob Wishwa-Kumar, manager of the El Castell motel, says there should be better ways for people to get around on foot than on sidewalks along a loud and busy street.
"There''s no walkway from here to the beach," he notes. "If there''s a walkway, people can stay here and enjoy the beach."
Wishwa-Kumar thinks more advertising would also help.
"We don''t get a lot of publicity," he says. "When visitors come they end up on Munras and when that fills we get the overflow."
But it''s not necessarily the fault of the tourist bureaus. Like businesses across the country, Wishwa-Kumar says his motel was crippled by the September 11 attacks. The few steady guests he has now are visiting business people, or construction workers needing a place to sleep while on a local job site.
"On a Saturday we''re not even 50 percent," he says. "After 9-11 everything changed."
Robert Blake, owner of Nu-Art Theater, agrees that North Fremont could do well with some sprucing up. He wants more tourists and even cruise ship visitors to come up to North Fremont.
"I''m pretty strict, for an adult bookstore owner," he says. "I do whatever is necessary to appease the city. And with the business this place does, it''s a nice revenue for the city."
Blake says he believes a farmers'' market at the Fairgrounds--like the ones held weekly on Alvarado and at Monterey Peninsula College--would be good for his business, even though a nearby crowd of vegetable fans might slow down his regular clientele.
"That would hinder me for one day, but more people would notice," he says.
But not all the business owners on North Fremont share so rosy a view.
Mark Pappas, Monterey native and owner of Village Motor Works, opposed the district for a number or reasons. He doesn''t think the district will work because North Fremont is a street that people drive through, not to. Also, he owned a service station in Old Town Monterey, but did not reap any rewards from its business district.
"I didn''t really derive any benefit from it, but I was still hit with the assessment," he says. "I''m not a pessimistic person, I just don''t think it''s going to work out here."
Already, there have been some improvements to North Fremont. Near the off-ramp from northbound Highway 1, there''s a new welcome sign and an old-timey lamppost.
Still there''s work to be done.
A man in a felt slouch hat and dark sunglasses, who gave his name as Joey, was working at a mobile bottle recycling post near Eddie''s nightclub one afternoon this week. He pointed out various fixer projects within feet of his workstation in the back of a parking lot.
"You see this tree?" he said, pointing over to a messed up plant near the road. "A little improvement in there would be nice. See that right there? That''s a weed. That''s not a flower. See that hole. That''s a city job right there."
But not all the work can be finished with shovels and shears. North Fremont needs to be buffed out but Joey knows that people''s perception of the neighborhood needs to change.
"This place has been neglected for a long time. A lot of people up in Monterey think this is Seaside. But it isn''t," he says. "It''s Monterey."