Downtown identity key to future

San Mateo officials eyeing old Kinko’s site as potential new home for City Hall

SAN MATEO — Downtown has come a long way in the past 13 years, but what it lacks is an identity.

Redwood City has nighttime entertainment and Burlingame has bars and high-end shops, but downtown San Mateo businesses offer such diversity that it’s tough to come up with a unifying theme, according to Kelly Mitter, head of the Downtown San Mateo Association. As San Mateo prepares to revise its downtown specific plan, last amended in 1993, creating an identity for the district is becoming an important goal for business and civic leaders.

“We struggle a bit with how we define ourselves,” Mitter said. “We compete with other areas, and everyone has their distinct characters, so we need to move forward to stay competitive.”

San Mateo will host a workshop Nov. 14 to begin shaping the next downtown specific plan and define the future of the retail core. The 1993 plan helped bring in major businesses such as Century Theatres and Draeger’s, boosting sales-tax revenues 2.3 percent between 2004-05 and 2006 alone, according to Community Development Director Bob Beyer.

Now, many are imagining how downtown will look 10 to 15 years in the future.

Councilman Jack Matthews is hoping to bring City Hall — once located on Ellsworth Avenue — downtown again. The former Kinko’s property, at the corner of Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue, has been identified as a possible spot for a new City Hall, Beyer said.

Matthews and others would also like to add a plaza like the ones in Sonoma and Healdsburg.

“It helps create more of a sense of community, and would be a place people could gather and celebrate,” Matthews said.

Building housing is a key component of any future downtown development, Beyer said, though officials have not yet identified how much would be needed. Adding a parking structure and redeveloping two former gas stations at the corner of Third Avenue and El Camino Real — perhaps as landscaped entryways to downtown — are other popular notions, according to Beyer.

San Mateo’s update comes at a time when neighboring cities are also focusing on the future of their downtowns. Burlingame is creating its first downtown specific plan, including workshops on its Howard Avenue corridor, while Redwood City is now taking public comment on the environmental review of its first downtown precise plan.

The workshop on the San Mateo Downtown Specific Plan will take place on Nov. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the community room at Central Park, located at Fifth Avenue and El Camino Real.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalneighborhoods

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