Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 12, 2010

Downtown studies need public exposure

by Jeb Bing

Two outside consulting agencies have been hired to help the city and the Pleasanton Downtown Association come up with marketing and nightlife entertainment strategies that can attract more people to Pleasanton's downtown. The efforts coincide with a ray of economic light that more shoppers and diners are visiting downtown stores and restaurants after a post-Christmas lull that's been absolutely dreadful. Some merchants such as Thriving Ink are seeing more activity, with owner Brenda Dronkers re-opening the garden patio behind her Main Street store. Business is also good at Redcoats British Pub and Barone's Restaurant, both for regular diners and the two establishments' entertainment and dancing venues. It's these successes that the PDA, with the help of the city-paid marketing program, hopes to replicate up and down Main Street.

For the city's part, it has contracted with Danville communications agency EMC Creative for some initial marketing research. EMC will define the marketing strategy that the PDA and downtown merchant group leaders Mike and Melanie Sadek of Murphy's Paw have put into place, which has included discount coupons and later evening hours, even on Saturdays. Because it's a city-financed effort, EMC won't limit its strategic thinking to just the downtown, but will also include retail centers in other parts of Pleasanton. Stoneridge Shopping Center, which has its own marketing team, will continue on its own.

EMC's a good choice for the marketing job. Since its founding in 1980, it specializes in master-planned and urban/suburban communities in Northern California. Its professionals are now interviewing Realtors, commercial brokers, and other stakeholders, including building owners who need tenants. When sales tax figures are announced for the fourth quarter of 2009 in a week or two, EMC also will analyze that data to see what sells the best downtown and, based on its survey work in other retail centers, what downtown Pleasanton could do to attract more shoppers. Questions asked at the crowded First Wednesday street parties in the summertime show many who participate in these events come for the fun but seldom or never to shop.

The PDA on its own has contracted with the second consulting agency to focus on making the downtown more of an entertainment destination. Although nighttime music and dancing have given North Main Street greater nighttime appeal, the PDA wants the nightlife extended and expanded. With the $10-million Firehouse Arts Center scheduled to open in September, it's expected there will be several hundred theater-goers walking down Railroad Avenue, Main Street and the side streets after the performances. Already there have been inquiries from cafes and bars about opening on those streets and the PDA wants to be ready.

It has hired Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) out of Santa Cruz to handle that initiative, with seminars scheduled later this month with a select group of individuals to focus on six areas: community, development, hospitality, entertainment, safety and research. If you haven't already been asked to share your views with RHI on what downtown needs, you're not part of the study. RHI's problem right at the start is that it will undergo its study behind closed doors. It's likely that those being hand-picked for the mission also are those who think Pleasanton should have a "right to do business" ordinance similar to Livermore's, where nighttime entertainment can open anywhere in the downtown district with the same hours and noise-limit considerations as given to Barone's and Redcoats. The PDA, with RHI's help, might win the City Council's approval for its long-wanted one-size-fits-all entertainment ordinance. If RHI recommends that, the private seminars and backroom deal-making will have to start all over again. This is a town that doesn't like decisions made behind closed doors.

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