When it comes to remaking the city of Salinas’ Lincoln Avenue corridor, there are a lot of “ifs” inserted into the discussion: If the numbers a dream-team development group submitted make sense; if available financing tools, including grants, can be brought to bear; if the plan passes environmental muster; and if all of it can be locked in by the end of 2021, then the city’s antiquated government center will look completely different and include a modern library and pedestrian plazas; employees of government offices and businesses will enjoy ample parking; and hotels and high-density housing will bring more visitors and residents to downtown.
And along with the ifs, the clock is ticking. That 2021 deadline for investment is mandated because the census tract that includes downtown Salinas has been designated an Opportunity Zone, an economic development tool created by the federal tax bill signed into law in 2017. Such designation is meant to draw private investment into so-called economically distressed communities by reducing capital gains taxes on investments made in those communities.
The development group – led by Silicon Valley developer Ralph Borelli of Borelli Investment Co. and including Swenson Builders, nonprofit First Community Housing and Wald, Ruhnke & Dost Architects – responded to a request for qualifications the city put out last May.
Now, as a city consultant reviews the numbers attached to the $489.4 million plan, the development team made an informal presentation on Jan. 23 at Salinas City Hall.
“We were asked to come forth with a vision and we did, all on our own dime,” Borelli says. “We put our groceries on the table by figuring things out and developing a project that is financially feasible. And this one is very, very complicated.”
The plan calls for four phases of development, starting this year and running through 2031. Between now and 2022, it includes building a 900-car parking structure near City Hall and another 450-car structure near the train station; demolishing the old police headquarters to create temporary parking; selling the parking lot east of the City Hall rotunda; and having First Community Housing acquire a parking lot north of the rotunda to develop below-market-rate housing.
In the ensuing years, the development team would construct a new city hall, sell the transit property to developers for housing and sell the city permit center property to develop a hotel, with another hotel planned for the former site of the Salinas Transit Center. By 2031, the team would move the old library to a new site, demolish the old building and sell it for development of parking, a mixed-use building and new apartments.
If there was an elephant in the room during the presentation, it was the ghost of failed developments past. Salinas has plenty of them, several audience members pointed out.
“People get jaded and start to not believe things,” said Christina Watson, a principal transportation planner for the Transportation Agency for Monterey County. “I appreciate this is fresh and there’s a new team, and you should emphasize this isn’t the same old plan.”
The city is taking comments about the plan through Jan. 31.