By Tim Hunt
Downtown Livermore could become a destinationUploaded: Dec 12, 2017
A diverse group of leaders has managed to move the Livermore City Council forward on with consensus on its long discussion of what to do with the 8.2 vacant acres in the heart of downtown.
In sharp contrast to the other group that is dominated by members and donors of Friends of Livermore, Livermore Citizens United brought together the cowboys, the wineries, the tech community, the business community and the performing arts community in support of a strong plan for the area.
It hinges upon a major central plaza that could be the hub for community festivals. That is complemented by a 150-seat black box theater (like what Pleasanton has at the Firehouse Arts Center) and a science and society center that will educate visitors about Livermore’s world-wide science leadership. Both would be privately funded.
The plan also preserves and enhances the historic Blacksmith Square—that’s in stark contrast to the plan pushed by the friends’ members that would either tear it down or isolate it.
The deal hinges on the offer by the Livermore Rodeo Stockmen’s Association to swap naming rights on the plaza for the right of the city to build housing on the vacant parcel behind City Hall that used to be known as “Sunken Gardens.” The rodeo grounds were once at the current civic center site and when they were moved to Robertson Park, there was a no residential development clause tied to the former site.
Freeing up that land for 100 units of workforce housing alleviates the need to build as many units on the downtown site. Because the city purchased the land through its now defunct redevelopment agency, there is a requirement for 25 percent of proceeds to be used for affordable housing. Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through a law in 2012 that wiped out the redevelopment agencies and saved the city from its 2,000-seat performing arts albatross on that site.
That rodeo association offer alone was a game-changer to say nothing for the two privately funded facilities that will enhance the area.
David B. Kent, the spokesman for the group, explained in an earlier press release the principles that guided the group as it developed the plan:
1) Design the downtown for future generations;
2) Repay the $14.5 million that was borrowed from the City’s affordable housing fund to purchase the site;
3) Take no side (pun intended) on which corner to build the hotel on – east or west.
The council agreed in a series of 5-0 votes to ask the staff to move ahead with more detailed plans for the core of the plan presented by the united group and to show plans with the boutique hotel on the westside and the eastside.
The unanimous votes demonstrate how thoughtfully the united plan—even though the art presentation was a sketch—was put together and designed to bring the community together. People from many different aspects of Livermore spoke in favor of the plan at a five-hour public hearing last month. The strong and diverse support likely moved to the council to incorporate many elements of the united plan.
The central plaza, coupled with Blacksmith Square, has the potential to give downtown Livermore the same type of hub as the plazas in wine country destinations Healdsburg (a personal favorite) and Paso Robles, a unified press release noted. What’s unusual for Livermore is it is a community of 80,000-plus with wine country bordering it to the south and east. By contrast, Paso and Healdsburg are small and somewhat isolate, although both share easy access to a major freeway as Livermore does.
Portions of downtown Livermore already are dynamic and thriving. This type of central attraction will provide a gathering spot that is unique in the Tri-Valley area. If brought to fruition, it will marry Livermore’s history in ranching, the sciences, wineries and the arts and enhance it as a destination.
I never thought I would write of Livermore as a destination, but that’s the possibility that the unified vision put on the table. (Decades ago, I asked why would anyone see the broader valley as a destination for visitors. Attractions have changed since then, but the central plaza would be a huge step forward.