VISTA — Two residents and business owners have a vision for a small plaza in downtown Vista.
Dubbed the Vista Town Square Public Market by Julie and Dave Lowen, the area currently has an arbor and about two dozen parking spaces. During the April 30 City Council meeting, though, a spirited discussion was brewing over what the city-owned property should become.
The Lowens’ idea also would eventually have the public market ranging from Main Street to Eucalyptus Avenue and from Citrus Avenue to Santa Fe Avenue. The idea was conceived by looking at Madison, Wisconsin, and Santa Monica, Julie Lowen said.
Council members Joe Green and Corinna Contreras were not in favor of the proposal, instead backing a plan to add several trees and field turf. Mayor Julie Ritter and Councilwoman Amanda Rigby also preferred the city option, but said perhaps the Lowen project could be incorporated at some point.
Councilman John Franklin was in support of waiting to investigate the Lowen
proposal more thoroughly. The council approved to bring the capital improvement project with possible modifications and cost estimates for evaluating the Lowen proposal.
“I know these people and I like these people and want their businesses to thrive,” Lowen said. “This would drive the change and people would have to stop. They have to go by it. And it would be so flipping cool, they’d want to stop.”
But the Lowen plan is more aggressive, starting with the smaller plaza, to activate the space to spur business growth and entertainment in the lot at the southeast corner of South Indiana Avenue and Main Street adjacent to Belching Beaver Brewery. In addition, Lowen, along with the City Council, said the current space has become an area for homeless, drugs and gangs.
The Lowens own the building at 221 Main Street, which houses their other business Children’s Paradise early infant care and preschool, and was purchased as an Opportunity Zone project.
The Lowens are in the midst of a major renovation of the building to include, potentially two, or several, smaller restaurants, a rooftop bar and additional training space for the child care business.
But the plaza, she said, can act as a centerpiece to the area with her building acting as a training center to support other potential vendors and businesses in the plaza.
Additionally, the plan calls for reorganizing the layout of the space to add street parking, landscaping and other amenities and security.
“Because it’s terraced, you could put a band,” Lowen said. “By creating a regional destination, what you could do is also create an Opportunity Business Zone. She added that they could create something where startups can be incubated and entrepreneurs can be sustained and scaled up.
Cost is also a consideration the two sides discussed, with the city project coming in at about $300,000, while Lowen plan would be around $1 million. Lowen said the area is an Opportunity Zone, thus is eligible for grants and tax benefits through the federal government, which would offset some of the cost from the city.
Also, large grants and other tax credits could be in play, she said, noting workforce and farmers market grants at about $400,000 each.
“The poorest neighborhoods in our entire country have been selected to receive significant investment,” Lowen said. “You can defer your capital gains tax and invest it in an Opportunity Zone to renovate a building and open a business.”
Numerous residents and neighboring businesses are in support of the Lowen proposal, or at least for the council to consider the item. Many spoke in front of the council and with the Lowens expressing support; although others are more cautious of the plan.
However, Green preferred the city’s option with a turf area and potentially vendors and a stage. He said if the city cannot make its own option work, there is little chance the Lowen proposal would be prosperous.
He said holding off on the basis of a good idea is not a good approach for the council.
“I feel like the work has been done on options A, B and C,” Green said. “That we look at the Vista Town Square Public Market as a long-term option, when we can figure out who are grant writers (are), how are we getting the money and what’s the total cost.”