The Coast News Group
A conceptual drawing shows Julie and Dave Lowen’s proposal for a public square area in Vista on Main Street and South Indiana Avenue. The City Council discussed several options for the space and plans to revitalize the area. Courtesy City of Vista
Cities Vista

New proposal emerges for public plaza in Vista

VISTA — The city is moving forward with plans to revitalize a public plaza to engage residents and create a more unique feel.

The plaza, on the southeast corner of Main Street and South Indiana Avenue, is 3,000 square feet with a gazebo, benches, landscaping and parking.

The city has contracted with ADL Planning Associates to develop conceptual plans to reshape the plaza, John Conley, community development director for Vista, said during the April 23 City Council meeting.

Residents Dave and Julie Lowen gave a short presentation on another alternative, one to make the area a more pedestrian-friendly and possibly close down South Indiana Avenue.

In short, the Lowen proposal is akin to a public plaza and town square to drive traffic to businesses, provide opportunities for those looking to start a business and options for visitors.

The Lowens likened it to Santa Monica and other cities where public areas are a focal point of those cities.

The council approved to bring capital improvement project with possible mods and cost estimates for evaluating the Lowen proposal.

“There are a lot of us down there who’ve invested a lot in the downtown area,” Julie Lowen said. “We’re going to need more feet to get more behinds in seats.”

She said it could be an opportunity zone to grow business, be a pathway to entrepreneurship and help with cleaning up the area. As such, she said she and others would like the work with the city to explore public and private partnerships to redevelop the area.

“What we are basically asking the city to do … is to start exploring those ideas,” Julie Lowen said. “We would like to develop a town square befitting of Vista and we don’t feel like the three options do that.”

Mayor Julie Ritter said she loves the idea, but wasn’t sure if the city’s population could handle such a large-scale project, and wondered where the money would come from to construct it.

Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said it would be better to grow into the Lowen proposal and leave the door open to re-evaluate and expand in the future. Both Ritter and Rigby supported the third option and then to possibly grow into the public square.

“If we can grow it slowly and see if we activate it smaller, we can have that it mind for the future,” Ritter explained.

Councilman John Franklin said the Lowen proposal has “a lot” of merit. However, he noted it is a big proposal but worth researching and looking at whether it would be wise to spend several hundred thousand dollars for the third option and potentially regret the Lowen proposal.

Franklin also asked why not take a couple months to research the Lowen proposal, especially since it appears to be a good idea.

“That proposal is a good proposal,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity for beautification. What have we lost if spend a couple of months examining this? What, really, is the cost in dollars in stopping this to give consideration to this idea?”

Councilwoman Corinne Contreras said she likes the Lowen proposal, but the city must move and act sooner rather than later. She preferred the third option with the turf area, saying the Lowen proposal may not be feasible along with being a multi-million-dollar project.

Councilman Joe Green also had reservations about the plan, noting three business, including Belching Beaver, were not in favor of closing the street. He said the city options are a microcosm of what the Lowes are proposing.

The council as a whole also was wary of the financial implications, each member noting how and where the money would be generated or secured to invest in such a project.

“My feeling … is that we go with option C and that we look at that Vista Town Square Public Market as a long-term option,” Green said. “For us to stop all we’ve done at this point … would be irresponsible.”

One plan calls for doubling the size of the plaza to 6,000 square feet by removing some surface parking in the adjacent public lot, but adding angled parking on both roads, which would increase the total parking spaces by five from 35 to 40.

“Staff has looked at this area in terms of increasing the usable space,” Conley said. “We are looking at this site plan in terms of expanding usable space by shifting parking to Main Street.”

However, feedback from the city’s outreach to nearby businesses had the city come back two additional plans, including one with a turf field for kids to play and an arts sculpture and garden.

A community meeting last year revealed residents and businesses preferred the third option, which features the turf area, Conley said. However, on Feb. 25 the Parks and Recreation Commission preferred the first plan, noting the site should not cater to children.

“They felt it should be more adult-oriented,” Conley said.