Business revitalization plans persist through the recession and a recent shooting.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Downtown Monterey merchants are accustomed to a post-holiday lull, routinely finding January to be a “doldrums area,” says Rick Johnson, Executive Director of Old Monterey Business Association.
But this January is worse than usual for some downtown businesses with a late-night clientele. Some owners attribute the downturn to a lingering fear following a New Year’s Day attack on Alvarado Street in which three people were wounded after a man was bounced from The Mucky Duck and returned with a gun.
“Downtown has slowed down since New Year’s Eve,” says Eric Waddell, owner of The Mucky Duck. The restaurant was behind nearly $34,000 in sales for the month as of last week.
To promote business, Waddell announced 50 percent off all food for students and military to the restaurant’s 5,000 Facebook friends, “Just to try and get that vibe back downtown.” Waddell has seen his regulars out in other neighborhoods, like Cannery Row.
Bellagio Pizzeria, which caters to a late-night crowd on weekends, has also been slow. Manager Luis Miranda says, “What happened on New Year’s doesn’t help our business. I think people are afraid.” Miranda himself, who leaves at 3:30am after closing, says the shooting “makes you think about dealing with people that are drunk in general.”
Many downtown merchants say their businesses are unaffected by the shooting, and that their daytime shoppers are unmoved by a late-night incident. But many agree that old downtown Monterey is struggling and want to see revitalization efforts stepped up.
The most recent available data show that as of June, sales tax revenue in old downtown was down 10 percent compared to the previous year and 21 percent compared to 2008. “I’ve heard a lot of people refer to downtown as ‘tired,’ and I would agree with that assessment,” says Michael Mosebach, president of the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association.
Besides feeling the effects of the recession, a 2007 fire destroyed 26 businesses and left behind a yet-undeveloped burn site next to The Mucky Duck. “The timing could not have been worse. It was the fire and the beginning of the recession all at once,” says Johnson of OMBA.
Waddell is determined to collaborate with other merchants, MCPOA, OMBA, and the Chamber of Commerce’s new Economic Vitality Committee, which launched last month, to more effectively promote downtown. The neighborhood, Waddell says, “has really had a hard time because 90 percent of tourists go straight to Cannery Row.”
MCPOA and OMBA agree that improved signage would help draw visitors downtown. As the city crafts a new specific plan for the neighborhood, and conducts a transportation and parking analysis considering major changes like converting one-way streets into two-way streets over the next six months, Johnson says it is important to note, “You can come in on Del Monte, and are not necessarily aware that there is a downtown right in front of you.”
Johnson is optimistic. “January is always difficult, and this one certainly is difficult. You have something like the shooting, and it doesn’t send a positive message,” he says. But, “we’re expecting a much stronger 2011. And from what’s we’re looking at in conference booking, a very strong 2012.”
Drawing tourists is only part of the fix, says Waddell. Johnson agrees: “Downtown really is the residents’ downtown.” Urging locals back, Waddell says, “Now, if anything, is the safest time to be downtown.”