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Abandoned gas station in American Canyon

Garbage collects at the abandoned Gas of America station in American Canyon, one of many lots the city wants to fix along Highway 29.

AMERICAN CANYON — Discussions are underway in American Canyon over what changes should be made along the stretch of Highway 29 within the city known as the Broadway District — what some call “the face of the city.”

Numerous concerns have surfaced over the years regarding the Broadway District, with officials saying a face-lift is in store as well as transportation-related changes to facilitate the flow of cars that use the highway and pedestrians who traverse it.

City planners held two meetings in the past week to gather suggestions and complaints from business owners and local residents for a new master plan that will envision a redeveloped Broadway District.

“Highway 29 is the face of the city,” said Community Development Director Brent Cooper at a meeting with members of the American Canyon Chamber of Commerce.

“Visually,” he added, the district presents “an opportunity for change.”

When the subject of Broadway comes up, there is no shortage of possible changes to consider. Meeting attendees raised numerous concerns, including the long-standing presence of vacant lots along the highway, the struggles of local businesses to draw in more customers and the frustration over traffic congestion.

Cooper said the city, working with Caltrans, plans to expand the roadway from four to six lanes to better move the estimated 50,000 cars that use it each day.

Some attendees questioned whether that plan, which is years away from being funded and constructed, will really help the traffic problem considering the time it will take to implement.

For Mark Durk, general manager of Adobe Lumber, which fronts the highway, a quick fixer is needed because his trucks struggle to get into and out of his parking lot during peak commute times.

“Ingress and egress – being able to get into our business and out of our business” is a big worry, said Durk.

He also echoed a common complaint among business owners that “there’s (thousands of) cars a day that go in front of our buildings and they don’t stop for one reason or another.”

John Nab, who operates the Canyon Plaza shopping center, said many local businesses have failed because they can’t draw enough customers, either off the highway or even from the local population.

He said business owners have often told him after closing their doors and “handing over their keys” that residents said belatedly, “I didn’t even know you were here.”

“This city doesn’t support local businesses,” said Nab. “Something has to be done about this. We got to make people more aware of what’s here.”

Chamber President and CEO James Cooper agreed that more needs to be done in American Canyon, particularly along the highway corridor to help businesses thrive.

“If our businesses don’t succeed, economically we’re going to start withering,” said Cooper.

The issue of business viability raised another subject concerning the highway: signage.

Some chamber members insist the city needs to put up more signs to let visitors and local residents know what services and goods are available.

But to do that the city will first have to revisit a local ordinance that restricts signage along the highway. Also, some areas near the road are controlled by Caltrans, which further complicates the task of adding signs.

City Councilmember Mark Joseph raised yet another challenge to helping businesses.

“Part of the problem is people only sleep here,” said Joseph, alluding to the fact that thousands of residents “get up early to drive to work somewhere else, and don’t spend much time shopping during the weekdays.”

At a special meeting of the City Council and the Planning Commission on Monday, city-hired consultants from MIG discussed the Broadway District plan and solicited input from those attending the meeting.

They discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the highway and the properties just off it, and mentioned how other cities have successfully developed a six-lane corridor that has thrived and been aesthetically pleasing. Mexico City was one example cited.

But urban designer Mukul Malhotra also mentioned examples like Mission Boulevard in Hayward, which developed a six-lane roadway that has failed to attract sufficient business alongside it, to demonstrate the risk facing American Canyon if it doesn’t make over its Broadway District successfully.

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