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A Vibrant Downtown is Primary City Goal, Development Director Says

James Walgren shares both public and private construction plans with Rotarians.

Fostering a more vibrant and successful downtown is the main goal of all the current and future construction and building going on in the business triangle, the city's top development official told the Los Altos Rotary Club on Thursday.

"All of these goals are based on the universal understanding that we have a very charming downtown," said James Walgren, the city's assistant city manager and director of community development. "The highest priority is to make sure we maintain throughout all these efforts the downtown character, the streetscape charm, its greenery, its trees, its pedestrian accessibility."

 Some of the highlights of Walgren's talk:

  • There’s already interest in the city’s request for proposals for public/private partnership mixed-use buildings that include below-grade parking garages in some of the city-owned parking plazas. The idea is to bring more office workers and residents into downtown to frequent businesses there. Walgren noted there has been “widespread” support for the plan in past public workshops. He said officials expect to evaluate projects early next year, with building starting within the next couple of years.
  • The Enchanté Hotel at the corner of Main Street and San Antonio Road is expected to start construction this year and will have a year and a half building window.
  • The Packard Foundation building between Second and Third streets along San Antonio is expected to be completed by summer 2012.
  • There is no timeline yet for the First Street Safeway, which is expected to expand from 21,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet.
  • The Bank of the West mixed-use building on Third Street should also be completed by next summer. It includes two stories of offices and housing on the third floor.
  • Condominiums at the site of the former Adobe Pet Hospital site on First Street is slated for a construction start this year, to be completed within 12 months.
  • The 48-unit condo project on the former First Street Post Office site has approved plans but no permits yet.
  • The clock is ticking on a 24-month construction schedule for the city’s First and Main streets mixed-use building. The city entered into an option to purchase agreement with Jeffrey Morris in spring of this year. Walgren said the project is "on track."
  • The new downtown intersections are designed to improve circulation for pedestrians. They shorten crosswalks and narrow streets for traffic calming. Wider sidewalks also mean more outdoor dining opportunities.
  • Streetscaping will begin on the San Antonio Road entrance next spring. To screen the view of Parking Plaza 3 from 30,000 cars a day, the city will install granite columns and a cable system to support plants, creating a "green fence."
  • Walgren touched on the city's long-term plan for its 18-acre Civic Center master plan. The goal is to strengthen the connection between the Civic Center and downtown as much as possible by carrying the street system across San Antonio and into the Civic Center parking lot. 
  • One possible intersection configuration for San Antonio Road, Main Street, Edith Avenue and the Civic Center is a rotary design with an island in the middle. "One of the nice things about the rotary system is it really solves a complex intersection, which is where rotaries work best," Walgren said. He noted that drivers headed up and down San Antonio will get a view of downtown, or the Civic Center, as they flow through the circle. Archway signs will label both downtown and the Civic Center. "These are things that would really put a stamp of recognition on the downtown hub area," he said.

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