The Pleasanton City Council Tuesday turned its attention to creating a local economic stimulus package to help its struggling downtown retailers and to work with business and property owners to strengthen shopping locally.
By one estimate, more than 50,000 square feet of available retail space is now vacant downtown and one merchant warned that three more retailers may close within the next three months.
City Manager Nelson Fialho and the city's Economic Development Director Pamela Ott said they are working with a downtown merchants' group and the Pleasanton Downtown Association to promote the downtown and to encourage property owners to reduce rents, even on a temporary basis, to help businesses whose profits have been significantly reduced in the current recession.
"It's my understanding that the owner of the building which Domus recently vacated has doubled the rent for any prospective tenants," said Melanie Sadek, who heads the merchants group. "I can tell you that three more retailers are in trouble and could close within three months."
Developer Michael O'Callaghan, who was hired by the owners of a now empty lot where the Union Jack Pub was torn down, said it has taken him a year to obtain approval for a new building. He said the property owners pulled a permit to build the new structure which means they have only six months to construct the building and find a tenant or face having to do it all over again.
He asked the city to relax its requirements by providing lower fees for new businesses that want to come to the downtown and the time restriction on building permits.
Fialho told the council that the city recognizes that many businesses may be facing financial challenges due to the current economic downturn. He suggested that a "Business Assistance Package" be established to provide local stimulus to both downtown and other struggling retail businesses in the city, including financial assistance with sewer connections fees and interior and exterior building design and retrofitting work.
More recently, he said, the city has focused additional attention on supporting the work of the PDA and, more directly, downtown merchants. These efforts included a holiday marketing campaign financed by the city to encourage Tri-Valley residents to patronize downtown stores. Fialho said the city plans to initiate broader marketing campaigns using the print media, television promotions and possibly even Internet advertising to promote Pleasanton businesses.
Other efforts under considerations include:
• Development Loan Program - A loan program for building renovations (structural building renovations to improve or stabilize properties) to encourage commercial real estate improvements.
• Interior Rehabilitation Program - Assistance for interior rehabilitation work limited to retail, restaurant and entertainment uses in the downtown in the form of rebates of fixed city fees following the completion of the work.
• Broker's Bonus Program-Bonuses to real estate brokers earning a professional commission for a lease or sale of commercial space in the downtown for a retail, restaurant or entertainment use.
• Relocation Assistance Program-To assist desired retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses to locate in the downtown, with grants for costs such as moving a company, transferring utilities, temporary signage and other assistance within a limited range of $1,500 to $10,000 rebated once the business is in operation.
• Marketing Match Program-Would increase assessment fee matching funds with additional funding allocated specifically to marketing the downtown district.
• First Floor Retail-Enact a first floor retail only restriction within the downtown district for a limited term.
Councilwoman McGovern urged Fialho, the PDA and Ott's Economic Vitality Committee to review the proposals and return to the council with a list of recommendations within a month or two.
"At almost every social event or business meeting, the issue of what the City Council is doing to help downtown Pleasanton is the most frequently asked question," she said. "The public is concerned and so am I."