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The Crystal Ball Looks Bright For Downtown Martinez

A burgeoning dining and music scene is about to get supplemented with more even more restaurants.

With the demise of the redevelopment conundrum, downtown Martinez is facing perhaps the brightest future it’s had since the ferry stopped running, and Sun Valley Mall opened in 1968. While we will probably never be the economic engine we were in the first half of the last century, all signs are pointing to a very bright future indeed for downtown Martinez.

Let me explain.

I have no pom-poms. I have no dog in the fight. I love the small town flavor and feel of this place, and while I would love to see the kind of growth that would bring parking and traffic problems to our area, I’m fine with things also staying essentially as they are. But things don’t do that. Life is change, and no matter how hard we resist it, change comes.

Change has already come downtown. There is a vital dining and music scene happening right now. more or less led the way, and showed everyone that there is a definite local market for music. has had music for years, and continues to provide a popular venue for rock bands. And now, so does . has live classical guitar, and the has a robust music scene in the back room, which is where the city council and board of supervisors used to cut deals when the place was Amato’s. has become a major music venue, and there is Karaoke every Tuesday at . has an open mike on Wednesdays, and is gearing up for weekend music. Each weekend is sold out at the . The continues to bring popular productions to the Campbell, which means more people dining locally.

That’s right now. But there are rumbles afoot of even more to come.

The word is that the Moose Lodge is getting ready to become a major new restaurant. Details are sketchy, but things look good for the future of that building.

The Taqueria Los Toros is said to be making way for a pizza parlor run by a very popular local caterer. If that comes to pass, it will be a welcome event.

And there is word that a cloth napkin Italian restaurant is coming to town, courtesy of the owner of Pleasant Hill’s Zio Fredo’s, in the spot on Escobar where the old China Garden used to be.

And this is the final weekend of The Station (formerly Ferry Street Station), but I’m told that the same owner of Zio Fredo’s is considering moving into that location as well.

The City Council tonight will declare 610 Court St. surplus property, in preparation to sell it and 630 Court St. to a local developer who has plans to turn the block into a nice restaurant, bakery, and offices.

These are rumors, but they are substantial ones, and at least most of them are likely to take place. These are not the kind of things you hear about an area that is in the doldrums. Yes, doldrums is where we have been for years, but here comes change.

As the county moves out, and the merchants downtown learn to live without the daily lunch crowd county employees used to provide, we can see the businesses slowly growing toward a more robust night life, with destination restaurants and music spots.

This can only mean positive changes for the area, as more people come to associate our city with dining and music, instead of jury duty and bail bond companies. And if it turns out we never attract a Nordstrom or a Neiman Marcus to our downtown, well, we’ll just have to learn to live with that somehow. 

Patrick J. McNamara March 25, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Why thank you Paul. I believe I will. You probably knew I would, eh? Yes, I remember all those fine establishments from my youth. As long as we are putting in our requests for having government determine (in their infinite wisdom) who and what type of businesses should occupy our downtown area, I would like to put in a good word for the slot car racing, pool hall and pinball arcades I and my friends spent way too many hours and quarters on 40 years ago. But there is a problem: aside from basic planning and zoning issues, the city is (and should be) relatively powerless to assign certain store fronts to a pre-planned nostalgic reinvention of Mayberry or Martinez or wherever. Even if such power did reside in city hall, trying to craft a downtown based on nostalgic childhood memories would likely be an utter failure and disaster. Whether we like it or not, times have changed. All those stores you mentioned began their tenure as replacements for other stores and hotels and various establishments whose time had also passed. No doubt 60 years ago, our parents and grandparents were bemoaning the fact that there was no longer a good steam laundry, plywood factory or livery stable downtown. But what our grandparents, parents and now we must realize is that those intrepid business owners who risk everything to start a business downtown will have done their homework and due diligence. Cheap rents do not inspire entrepreneurial risk taking. Cont'd...
Patrick J. McNamara March 25, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Paul, I find it more than just a little ironic that those who fought against the idea of redevelopment for so many years now advocate central planning in the downtown. "Marketing plan," "business plan," "establishing a direction...” don’t you realize that at its core, that is exactly what redevelopment is? It is using the power of government (eminent domain, distribution of retained tax revenue and autocratic power) to usurp private risk-taking and instead appointing a cabal of (presumably) wise visionaries in city hall to create a downtown, like a child playing with Legos. Sometimes it works out fine. All too often, however, what results is a very expensive, modern looking, attractive ghost development. People buy goods and services differently now than they did even 20 years ago. Nobody gathers their family together to go shopping for pleasure. Sorry. But enough of my nay-saying. Readers of Martinez Patch comments probably know I nag you every now and then to stop nay-saying and instead share your vision. Now you have delivered, so it's only fair I do the same. Cont'd...
Patrick J. McNamara March 25, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Realize that a vision is a destination. We can’t copy other cities and towns, although we can try to emulate them. I have often wondered about which other place some people were trying to create here in Martinez over the years as everyone was arguing about redevelopment. While some cities like Concord tried to redevelop based on “Walnut Creek envy,” I think many Martinez folk had different models. Some perhaps hoped we would gentrify into Sausalito. Some perhaps hoped we would retreat into rural, bohemian enclaves like Bolinas or Cotati. All of these dreams are fine, but of course we can no more become some other town than I can become Elvis by growing large mutton-chop sideburns. We have to be ourselves. That said, I believe there are many examples of civic adaptation that have created very good places to live, raise a family, enjoy recreation, and whose downtown is lively, quaint, and dynamic. Places where hotels, restaurants, music & galleries thrive. A good example of a place like this is Fort Bragg, along the Mendocino coast. For many years a town with a couple of anchor industries (timber & fishing), it has adapted to a non-industrial economy by drawing visitors and attracting residents who want to live there even if it is not cheap to do so. But, we cannot just become Fort Bragg, or Sausalito, or Bolinas or Cotati. Nor can we become Martinez, California circa 1962. The future beckons. Cont’d…
Patrick J. McNamara March 25, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Whatever model town we individuals harbor in our minds, I think we agree that we want a downtown with bustling pedestrian appeal and a variety of viable shops, eateries and other diversions. We agree on this because we know that shopping for basic provisions is no longer done on Main Street, USA. We must not be in denial about that. Before we set sail for this destination, we must first set our waypoints by which to navigate there. First things first, and second & third things second and third. You mentioned that there must be things that entire families will want to come downtown to do together. I could not agree more with you on this, Paul (mark the calendar!). Where I think you erred was to think in terms of what the family would do after dining at one of our many fine eateries. Better I believe to realize that the family activities will come before the restaurants. The music and pub crawls will be primarily the attraction of the adults. The overarching point is, though, that activities and events on a routine basis begets outside revenue and outside visitors who discover Martinez for the first time. It also provides a foundation for downtown merchant stability. That is step one. That’s where we are now. Cont’d…
Patrick J. McNamara March 25, 2012 at 08:05 PM
But what can provide that first waypoint? Recreation. It’s already happening. Where in days gone by we could only speculate about what draws outside visitors to downtown Martinez, internet info exchanges like Yelp.com and the like provide actual insights about what outsiders notice and like about a place. From internationally recognized bocce events, to sturgeon derbies that create 500-vessel motorboat regattas from our marina, to last weekend’s youth basketball tournament at recently opened Nor-Cal Sports that brought 300 families from all over California to downtown Martinez to spend the weekend, and discover this cool little town… “wholesome” family activities are indeed coming to town. And, they are heading straight to the waterfront. And, its potential has barely been tapped. As you know, I have advocated for a waterfront recreation district to assume responsibility of the marina and the uplands north of the railroad tracks. I believe that tastefully executed recreational opportunities in partnership with EBRPD and its values, along with a vibrant, active marina and maritime amenities, will not only provide the catalyst for downtown Martinez’ renaissance, but would also provide the impetus and financial viability for catamaran ferry service to that waterfront, further benefitting the downtown in particular and the city as a whole. And as Roxanne Cole said, “You can’t do that one, Walnut Creek!”

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