Shop owners hope to avoid squeeze 

Shopkeepers on Main Street are hoping they won’t be exiled from the revitalization planned for the rest of downtown.

In an effort to install retail establishments and restaurants cheek-by-jowl along Broadway, city planners are recommending that ground-floor "shopfront" offices, such as travel agencies or dental clinics, be allowed alongside boutiques and auto-parts stores on Main Street.

Those descriptions are part of the Downtown Precise Plan, a detailed guide to future development poised for City Council approval this spring.

An early version of the precise plan suggested turning Main Street into an "arts district" with music venues, galleries, art-supply stores and antique shops, but so many new retailers had signed long-term leases that consultant Michael Freedman, who drafted the plan, changed his mind.

Among the new shops are Lulu’s — run by Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe — Angelica’s Bistro, a consignment antique store and a garden-ornament shop.

However, now owners say they need pure retail to drive foot traffic to their stores.

"Don’t leave Main Street out," business owner Michael Esposito told the City Council last Monday during a public hearing on the precise plan. "Already, it looks run-down and the lights are dim, so people don’t feel comfortable walking on Main."

If the city allows offices to take ground-floor spots on Main, business will die off on evenings and weekends, said Peter Cuschieri, who owns Angelica’s Bistro. By contrast, the precise plan is designed to add between 2,500 and 3,700 new residences and bring nightlife to Redwood City’s core.

However, the various recommendations for Main Street are designed to focus retail along the Broadway corridor. Under the plan, ground-floor offices would not be allowed anywhere else downtown.

That’s because planners aren’t sure Redwood City can draw enough shops and restaurants to fill both Broadway and Main Street, according to Planning Manager Jill Ekas.

There are five vacant storefronts on Main between Marshall Street and Middlefield Road — and 13 on Broadway between Winslow and Main, Ekas said. That includes several empty spots in the new retail-cinema complex that opened on the corner of Broadway and Middlefield last July, designed to bring film buffs and shoppers downtown.

The uncertainty surrounding Main Street, which has proven itself a retail magnet in recent years, was one reason the City Council postponed a vote on the precise plan last Monday, according to Mayor Barbara Pierce.

"Main Street is coming along. Possibly we could recommend a variance or shorter leases for offices that want to move there," Councilman Jeff Ira said.

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Beth Winegarner

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