Advisory Services Panel — Watsonville, California


Date: March 18-23, 1990
Location: Watsonville, California
Chair: Benjamin (Bud) T. Lake II
Subject Area: Disaster Recovery, Economic Development, Sustainable Development

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The Assignment
The city of Watsonville, facing an unprecedented level of planning and redevelopment activity to recover from the earthquake, requested assistance from the Urban Land Institute. The Institute made a decision to take on the Watsonville assignment as a public service panel, hoping to create a body of knowledge about redevelopment issues and strategies that would come out of earthquake-damaged communities. The lessons learned could benefit all communities facing rebuilding after an earthquake or other natural disaster. The panel was given specific objectives for developing effective and aggressive strategies for the rebuilding and revitalization of the downtown study area, with particular emphasis on implementation. The questions involved were grouped to address issues in four general categories:


1. Development Potential. ldentify current and long-term development potential for the study area, listing the types of retail office, cultural, housing, and civic activities that should be developed and the desired densities.

2. Planning and Urban Design. Examine existing and proposed land use planning and design concerns, suggesting a method or methods of integrating existing structures with new development, satisfying parking needs, mixing downtown uses approp1iately, and identifying places for open spaces.

3. Development and Marketing Strategies. Identify marketing and development strategies, including financial plans and options.

4. Implementation. Indicate the changes that will be needed within the city, and the funding sources that could be used to accomplish the panel’s recommendations.

The following sections summarize the panel’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations:

  • Development Potential. Downtown Watsonville has evolved into a specialized commercial district more like a neighborhood shopping center. A strong appeal should be made to the buying power of the Latinos who constitute more than 60 percent of the local area population. Ford’s Department Store, or a similar department store, should be encouraged to re-build in the 400 block of Main Street to anchor downtown retailing. The Post Office and the South County Courthouse/Health Clinic should be encouraged to relocate in the 200 block of Main Street to create a new civic center. Together with a City Hall, this regional civic center could serve a larger Watsonville and the southern part of Santa Cruz county. Housing in the downtown area should be a critical element in rebuilding the downtown core. Encroachment on the commercial district should be avoided and residential density should be intensified on the edges of downtown.
  • Planning and Urban Design. In the major section of the report the panel provides architectural and urban design guidelines for development that will create an inviting and safe down-town. The guidelines include these elements: Streetscapes to make it more inviting for pedestrians. Parking layouts to ease circulation and satisfy retail customer and employee demands. A marketplace and community center at the Park Plaza, the town center.
  • Development Goals and Marketing Strategies. October 17, 1991, should be targeted as the date to complete the first phases of this program. Buildings with an historical character should be renovated and returned to the market as soon as possible. Ford’s Department Store should be rebuilt on its original site downsized to current market demand. A multipurpose community center should be established on the Odd Fellows building site across from the Plaza. A weekend marketplace should be created in the street surrounding the Plaza to serve the local Hispanic culture and provide a comer-stone for a possible future tourist attraction. The Antique Aircraft Fly-In should be reconsidered as a major Watsonville tourist attraction.
  • Implementation. Tax increment financing using leverage, equity participation, and ground leasing should be aggressively pursued. Sales tax revenue should be recaptured and used as leverage for debt purposes. Grants and loans and assessment districts can provide other sources of financing. The authority of the Redevelopment Agency should focus on downtown approvals with an advisory board appointed to provide direction to the agency and serve as a community sounding board.

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