The Coast News Group
The Vista City Council has agreed to slow down a plan to upgrade the city’s Main Street Plaza. Photo by Steve Puterski

Vista council opting to go slow with Main Street Plaza

VISTA — The city’s Main Street Plaza has been a hot topic regarding revitalization and drawing more people to downtown.

The city approved further information regarding a slight upgrade to the space on April 23, although two residents are still proposing a more robust plan. The plan approved by the City Council is estimated to cost $594,000, which includes adding six parking spaces at the site located on South Indiana Avenue and Main Street.

During its Sept. 24 meeting, the council agreed to slow the process, citing the need to look at the project from a more holistic level and engaging the business community into potential ideas.

John Conley, Vista’s director of community development, said the item would likely return before the council after Jan 1, 2020.

“I don’t see the impetus to solve this now,” Councilman John Franklin said. “We don’t have an idea I can go all-in on.”

Dave and Julie Lowen submitted a proposal for the 3,000-square-foot site, which 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.

But the plaza, Julie Lowen said in a previous interview, 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, vendor spaces, seating and security.

Conley said staff evaluated the Lowens’ proposal and the cost estimate totals $2.7 million, much more than the city’s preferred alternative.

“We don’t want something in downtown that is not going to create the regional destination, that isn’t going to respect the owners who are putting in millions,” Lowen said.

The Lowens own the building at 221 Main Street, which houses their business Children’s Paradise early infant care and preschool. They had plans to renovate much of the building to add a restaurant or two plus a rooftop bar.

However, Lowen said they are moving the school to Carlsbad and shuttered plans for the bar because the financial risk is too high, and the traffic to downtown is too low.

“Without creating a regional destination in the downtown, you’re not going create an economy that is going to thrive,” she added.

Other residents urged the council to slow the process and rethink the plaza and come up with a more attractive alternative. Currently, the city’s plan would be to remove the gazebo, add parking and trees.

Councilman Joe Green, who didn’t support the Lowen plan fully in April, though, said he agrees with taking a step back and taking a deeper look. Like Franklin, and others, Green said wants to bring a “wow” factor to the area.

One resident threw out creating a pedestrian mall-type of space for an even larger segment of downtown, a proposal some council members are willing to look at. Mayor Julie Ritter and Councilwoman Amanda Rigby did not agree with the idea, although they were in favor of a more robust plan.

Ritter was more cautious in the approach to more robust plans, citing previous unsuccessful attempts, along with closing off South Indiana Avenue.

And while the ideas and proposals were welcomed, the council also said cost must be a factor as the city doesn’t have $2.7 million to invest. However, Green said there could be outside resources, such as grants, to alleviate some of those concerns.

Lowen said in April the area may qualify as an Opportunity Zone, which would open it up to federal grants.