Rosier future for Redwood City's downtown area

Fewer people than expected are flocking to downtown on weeknights and Sundays, but there are signs that the city’s retail core is finally on the upswing.

Before Redwood City launched the retail-cinema site last summer, with a 20-screen movie theater, stores and new restaurants, local officials were bracing for an additional 1 million visitors each year. Now they’re scaling back paid parking — which will from now on be free after 8 p.m. on weeknights and all day Sunday — attimes when business is slowest, Downtown Development Manager Dan Zack said.

Based on city parking records, about 220,000 people have visited the downtown area so far this year, though that does not include people visiting by other transit modes.

However, most city officials still see only signs of promise. Retail-cinema developer David Irmer said a new restaurant, Citrine, will open in the southwest corner of the site June 15 and that many of the site’s other vacant spaces should be full by the end of the year.

In addition, Irmer is in escrow to purchase the property at Jefferson Avenue and Middlefield Road across from the retail-cinema site.

“We would like to redevelop that with offices on the corner, and some apartments and retail along the Middlefield-Winslow axis that would tie back into the [cinema], the Fox Theatre, and the proposed Depot Circle by the train station,” Irmer said.

Despite the fact that the new complex remained half-empty through 2006 and so far in 2007, downtown sales taxes increased from $231,000 in the fourth quarter of 2005 to $250,000 in the fourth quarter of 2006, after the site opened, city Finance Director Brian Ponty said.

That’s an 8.2 percent increase, while the rest of the city’s sales taxes rose 6.8 to 7 percent over that same time period, Ponty said.

Meanwhile, City Manager Ed Everett is forging onward with plans for the city to sublease the still-operating Century 12 on East Bayshore Road and turn it into a small auto mall. Many downtown business owners blame that theater’s existence for lower attendance at the new downtown cinema.

“I have been told that [Century owner] Cinemark had to take a lease on the property for 10 years, but my sense from discussions with them is that they would rather not have to operate that property,” Everett said.

Despite low turnouts on weeknights and Sundays, Everettis optimistic.

“Is it as busy people thought it would be? Maybe not, but I think we’ll see a slow and steady increase, particularly as housing projects get approved and built,” Everett said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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