Big Plans in Little China
Salinas’s Chinatown has a plan for renewal —but no developer to take the lead.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Land-use consultant Paul Zykofsky correctly called a recent renewal meeting in Salinas’ Chinatown déjà vu. Zykofsky and other planners put together a redevelopment plan two years ago with many of the same faces from organizations including the Chinese Confucius Church and Dorothy’s Place. But armed with more money from a Caltrans grant, the city’s Redevelopment Agency is now looking to refine the New Urbanist plan with help from a bevy of consultants and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students – even though no deep-pocketed developer has stepped forward.
“We are going to move slow because we are broke,” says Don Reynolds, redevelopment project manager, adding the plan will be a slam dunk for a developer when revised since it will already have jumped through the hoops of community involvement and city support.
“WE ARE GOING TO MOVE SLOW BECAUSE WE ARE BROKE.”
Progress has been made in Chinatown since the 2007 renewal plan was unveiled. The @risK gallery on Soledad Street is attracting more visitors; the Salinas Downtown Community Board, which is leading the renewal effort, is now a nonprofit; and once-disparate groups are still sharing the table. But the recurring dilemma of people not feeling safe in Chinatown – where drug dealers dish out dope and homeless people line the streets – remains unresolved.
Architect Richard Fe Tom says a proposed museum in the old Republic Cafe telling the history of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese immigrants has the potential to partner with the National Steinbeck Center. Using grant money secured by CSU Monterey Bay, Fe Tom hopes to open the museum within a year. But it’s not a done deal. “We have to have people feeling safe,” he says, “and feel like they can go between here and the downtown area.”
Chinatown, now cut off from Oldtown by a black wrought-iron fence and train tracks, is hoping to feed off the momentum of a 20-acre downtown redevelopment project led by Robert Leidig and Salinas Renaissance Partners.
“You can’t develop [downtown] without also looking at what’s going on in Chinatown,” says Tom Melville, co-chair of the Downtown Community Board.
Plans for a one-stop social services center is part of the mix, and the ACTION Council of Monterey County is conducting a homeless – and low-income-needs survey. An economic development team from Seifel Consulting Inc. will conduct a market study and identify catalyst projects in Chinatown.
On April 25 the neighborhood will come alive with Asian delicacies and events (see story pg. 41).
The long-term renewal of Chinatown still holds promise, but as Fe Tom noted in reference to the museum: “We are at a point where we got to stop talking. We got to start doing.”