Before 2004, First Street was State Route 84 running through downtown and providing easy cut-through commute traffic. Even for most residents, the downtown was a place to pass through, not a destination. Recognizing the community’s preference to push commute traffic out of the downtown and back to the freeway, the Downtown Specific Plan included changes to First Street that would dramatically slow traffic speeds and recapture downtown streets for residents and visitors seeking an active and pedestrian friendly destination.
First Street - Before Streetscape Project First Street - After Streetscape Project
The First Street Streetscape was the first catalyst project under the Specific Plan to promote investment in the downtown. The Streetscape project narrowed First Street to one lane in each direction, widened sidewalks on both sides of the street, and introduced the “flex-zone” where businesses could seasonally choose to convert new diagonal parking spaces to outdoor space for dining and display. Enhanced landscaping and furnishings such as trellises, benches, kiosks, and lighting finalized First Street’s shift of focus from the automobile to the pedestrian.
Livermore Cinema Bankhead Theater and Plaza First Street & Railroad Avenue Mixed Use
Later catalyst projects, shown above, such as the Livermore Valley Center site (Cinema, Bankhead Theater, and mixed retail/office uses) have helped to energize downtown and make it an activity center on Thursday through Sunday. The downtown restaurants are doing well for the most part, but amid the growing success of online shopping, success for brick and mortar retailers continues to be a challenge. The intent of the Specific Plan’s revitalization strategy is to provide everyday shopping and service uses with a variety of living opportunities. Thus, the Specific Plan identifies commercial, office, and residential development as playing significant roles in revitalizing downtown. The idea is that office uses will support downtown retail and restaurant businesses during the day and that downtown residents will frequent downtown retail and restaurants in the evenings and on weekends. Being a short walk from your favorite retail or restaurant is a lifestyle choice that many enjoy and that helps keep downtown businesses going.
At the City Council’s Goals and Priorities Workshop on February 15, 2017, the Council identified the downtown as a priority with a preferred public outreach approach to include the appointment of a steering committee, made up of community stakeholders. On February 27, 2017, City Council directed establishment of a Downtown Steering Committee (Steering Committee) and formed an ad-hoc Finance Committee (Finance Committee). Council directed the Steering Committee to develop a public engagement program for issues related to the development of the City’s downtown sites. Council directed the Finance Committee toevaluate funding options for the 8.2-acre downtown sites and evaluate how those options would affect the City’s finances.
The Steering Committee held eight public meetings, where it received information from experts (Key Learnings) on a variety of topics relevant to the improvement of the City’s downtown sites, including information developed by the Finance Committee, and developed land use alternatives to facilitate public dialogue and highlight the range of possibilities. The Committee also reviewed and agreed upon a public engagement plan that employed the alternatives and the Steering Committee’s key learnings.
On August 7, 2017, the City Council accepted the Steering Committee’s Public Engagement Plan and directed staff to commence with outreach according to the contents and schedule in the Engagement Plan. City Council further directed staff to provide updates, including participation metrics, during the community engagement process. City Council also reviewed and discussed tools for limiting residential development in the Downtown. The purpose of the Engagement Plan was to facilitate feedback from a wide range of Livermore residents and business owners, reflecting the range of opinions within the community, as well as the City’s demographics. The Engagement Plan utilized a variety of outreach tools to make it easy for community members to provide input, including a website with online engagement tools. Public engagement concluded on Saturday, November 4, 2017, with the final pop-up event. Community participation was very strong across the various events and through the online engagement tools.
The City was able to reach notably more community members than typical city engagement efforts, with respondents coming from all demographic sectors, although participants were generally older, wealthier, and less ethnically diverse compared to the City’s demographic profile. The highest priority elements identified by the over 2,000 residents who participated included provision of adequate parking, maintaining community character, and incorporating a centrally located open space area.
On November 27 and 29, 2017, the City Council accepted the Final Downtown Public Engagement Report and provided direction to staff and PlaceWorks to develop two concept plans that incorporate Key Learnings developed by the Steering Committee, public feedback obtained through community engagement, and Council goals for the downtown sites. City Council directed preparation of one concept with a hotel on the east side of South Livermore Avenue and one with a hotel west side of South Livermore Avenue.
On September 11, 2017, the City Council directed staff to meet with the Livermore Stockmen’s Rodeo Association to discuss under which conditions they would be willing to amend an Agreement between the Stockmen’s Association and the City that limits development of an approximately two-acre property on Pacific Avenue to civic center and park uses. The City Council provided further direction on November 29, 2017, to include Stockmen’s Park in the Draft Downtown Land Use Concepts and rezone the Pacific Avenue property to allow 75 or more units for seniors and/or veterans.
In January 2018, at the conclusion of a year-long public outreach process, City Council approved a plan for the eight acres in the heart of the Downtown. There was broad community consensus to:
• limit building heights adjacent to Blacksmith Square;
• build a parking garage in the southwest area;
• construct a new east/west street with diagonal parking; and,
• locate Stockmen’s Park near Blacksmith Square and South Livermore Avenue.
This left two areas of the site for housing and the hotel: the corner of South L Street and Railroad Avenue and the area next to the Bankhead Theater.
In considering placement of the hotel and housing (ranked seven and ten out of the top ten priorities identified by the community during the public engagement process, respectively), Council balanced community feedback, Key Learnings, and the preferences of the hotel developer by approving housing at the corner of South L Street and Railroad Avenue and the hotel on the east side of South Livermore Avenue.
The following considerations were factors in Council’s decision:
• The east side site provides the best opportunity for synergy between the hotel, surrounding restaurants, and the Bankhead Theater.
• The hotel builder identified the east side of South Livermore Avenue as the preferred location.
• South L and Railroad was the location most commonly identified for housing during the outreach process.
Council directed staff to implement the final approved plan. Staff is in the process of approving contracts and issuing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to interested partners to build the plan. Groundbreaking for the Stockmen’s Park is on May 19, 2018, and construction on the parking improvements will begin early this summer.