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The St. Helena City Council promises to take steps to improve the economic health of Main Street, where businesses have complained about declining foot traffic.

ST. HELENA — The next six months are shaping up to be a pivotal time for Main Street businesses as the city promises swift action to stimulate commerce.

Faced with 20 recommendations from city staff based on a consultant’s economic study, the City Council agreed Tuesday that most of them should be implemented or at least initiated within the next six months. A few of the recommendations were given lower priorities, but none of them were rejected outright.

The plan’s long-term centerpiece is the installation of new, safer sidewalks downtown. The work is scheduled for 2021, but planning is already getting underway due to the complexity of the project, potential complications involving trees and underground utilities, and impact on businesses.

Merchants, who are struggling with fewer customers, have praised the recommendations as long overdue. Councilmembers also were supportive, although specific recommendations like exploring a new hotel will probably become more controversial once they’ve been fleshed out.

“One way or another, if we’re going to be sustainable we have to generate more foot traffic that stays longer here in St. Helena and helps our shops,” Mayor Alan Galbraith said. “I’m especially pleased with the comments about taking a further look at hotels.”

The economic consulting firm Kosmont Companies will study two city-owned sites – the Adams Street property and the Teen Center lot on Railroad Avenue – and report back to the council on each site’s potential for generating revenue, including the number of hotel rooms that might be suitable for either location.

The council-appointed SHAPE Committee already considered a possible hotel on one of those properties.

“A lot of the community that was initially very opposed to a hotel on Adams — a lot of it had to do with the process,” said Councilmember Mary Koberstein. “But by going through the SHAPE process, there were several people who came around to the idea that some preservation of public open space over there would be acceptable with a hotel.”

Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth said any discussion of a hotel has to consider the additional need for housing that would result. Koberstein said she sees the upcoming Kosmont study as a feasibility and site analysis, with suggested room counts that would inform future talks about impacts.

The council also gave its blessing to a pilot project allowing the Napa Valley Wine Train to temporarily drop off passengers in St. Helena, possibly as part of the Jingle All the Way promotion scheduled for December.

“We’re hearing from the merchants – or at least I am – that this is something they’d like to see,” Ellsworth said. “I like the idea that it’s a pilot program, and we’re testing to see how it goes.”

The council also endorsed the following recommendations, with most of them starting within the next six months:

- Start planning for a new multi-use City Hall on the current property

- Allow for pop-up retail

- Pursue pedestrian alley beautification

- Complete downtown restroom project on Money Way

- Complete parking study to identify possible improvements

- Evaluate potential streetscape improvements to Money Way, Railroad Avenue and Oak Avenue

- Enhance community event programming in partnership with the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce

- Refresh branding and reputation of downtown

- Fund online marketing portal for vacant commercial space and priority investment opportunities

- Provide technical assistance to businesses and landlords on experiential, destination and omni-channel retail strategies

- Develop policies and a permit process for city parklets

- Improve business certainty by identifying community-supported uses permitted by right in the Central Business and Service Commercial zoning districts (12 months)

- Launch downtown façade and tenant improvement program (12 months)

- Develop sign program with local history so people can find historical sites and other places of interest (12 months)

- Streamline the permit process by discontinuing discretionary review for certain permit types (12 months)

- Re-imagine underused properties/promote infill housing (12 months)

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.