Wheeler Plaza Development in San Carlos: 3 Reasons Why it Needs to Happen.

June 28, 2011


Time for a Change.

The other morning while I was making my normal run for sourdough bread at Le Boulanger (if you haven't tried their fresh sliced sourdough, it's out of this world), I was struck by how much of an eyesore the rear parking area behind the building has become.  Sure, during business hours it serves a valuable purpose as a main downtown parking area.  But during non-business hours, it's just vast sea of empty parking spaces that's sometimes strewn with litter on windy days.  For those of you who may not know, that very area on the corner of Walnut Street and San Carlos Avenue (including many of the buildings), is a city-owned plot of land known as Wheeler Plaza.  And for the past couple of years, the City has been investigating different ways that it might re-develop that entire site.

I hope the City will be able to take one of those solutions beyond the idea stage and actually re-develop this prime area of San Carlos, because there are three key reasons why it needs to happen:

#1)  Right the Blight.

Businesses seem to be getting healthier all along Laurel Street in downtown San Carlos, especially with growth in the middle and southern sections.  But the northern stretch of Laurel is still (and will continue to be) the magnet that draws residents and visitors alike to downtown San Carlos for the foreseeable future.  The unique combination of shops and restaurants, along with the convenient location, makes it the most popular part of downtown San Carlos.

Wheeler Plaza should be the Cinderella of this critical piece of San Carlos, not the ugly step-sister.

Having the old Foodville Market sitting like a ghost for past two years certainly hasn't helped, but it's interesting that the City stepped in and purchased it this past March.  Hopefully a sign of better things to come with this parcel of land.

#2)  Tax Revenue.

For the first time in many years, the City of San Carlos may have a budget surplus when it votes on its budget for the upcoming year.  But this is a result of a one-time, massive reconfiguration of vital city services (aka outsourcing), and the fiscal health of the city cannot ride solely on the back of budget cuts.  The city must find other sources of revenue to keep the budget in the black, the most obvious of which is increasing sales tax revenue.

A well-planned development at Wheeler Plaza will bring two things that are vital for fiscal growth: More people, and more businesses (and not just more restaurants.)

#3)  Alternative Housing.

Not everyone who is looking to call San Carlos “home” is able to (or wants to) shell out the nearly $880,000 average price it takes to land a home today in this market.  But if you look at what's available in upscale alternative housing (condos, apartments) near downtown, the choices are bleak.  Aside from the development at 1001 Laurel (which is nearly sold out) and a few smaller 12-14 unit places that have been remodeled in Howard Park, there's very little else to choose from in modern housing.   Most of the other condo buildings downtown are getting pretty long in the tooth.

Smart Options.

In sketching out the options for a possible re-development of Wheeler Plaza, the San Carlos Redevelopment Agency has done a good job of maintaining the right priorities that will make this agreeable to the greatest number of residents:  An aesthetically pleasing design, and preserving the existing capacity that's currently in place.  It's exciting to see the possibilities for this vital area of downtown San Carlos.

It was only 10-15 years ago that Laurel Street underwent its dramatic (and wildly successful) transformation.  It's now time for Wheeler Plaza to follow suit.

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  1. Trent on June 29, 2011 at 3:41 am

    I have a different take on redevelopment along Laurel Street that should give people some pause. It’s relatively safe to say that most Laurel Street businesses are food related. Unfortunately, with the exception of Town and Piacere, they’re all cutting each other in a never ending battle to lure and retain customers. You only have to look at M***** to see what’s happening. It’s now practically empty every night , while the new happening place is the jam, packed, noisy Italian restaurant across the street. Don’t be suprised at a few more restaurant closures by the end of summer.

    What this essentially means is that downtown is heavily weighted towards one kind of service only. Let’s hope Wheeler Plaza has a mix of affordable rent for small business services and housing that doesn’t look like the ugly duckling of 1001 Laurel.

  2. JJ on June 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    The reason that M is practically empty every night is b/c of the customer reviews. After reading Yelp, for example, who would want to spend $$ there? Yes, we want more that just food places on Laurel, but it is not overwhelmed w/ them now. What Laurel really needs is more varied restaraunts w/ better quality food. This would help bring more people onto Laurel St, which would be better for all food vendors (as well as other businesses). Check out Castro St in MV – many restaurants & lots of people.

  3. Maureen on June 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I only have a few comments:

    1) 1001 Laurel may be almost sold out, but it’s the most hideous looking building in San Carlos. Let’s hope Wheeler Plaza isn’t a lookalike.

    2) Restaurant cuisine is faddish. What’s here today, is gone tomorrow. I agree with the OP, that only Town and Piacere have been able to withstand this faddishness.

    3) Castro St. in Mt. View isn’t a comparable example. It draws a large crowd from the Googleplex and Shoreline day and night. San Carlos isn’t so cosmopolitan and is stuck on Italo-Mediterranean food only with a smattering of fake Mexican burrito places.

    4) I reminded of Megan McArdles article in Atlantic magazine a few months ago. People have beautiful kitchens outfitted with Sub Zeros and Wolf ranges, but can’t cook squat at home. Hence the need to eat out.

  4. JJ on June 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    RE #3 “Castro St in Mt View isn’t a comparable example” to SC. “San Carlos isn’t so cosmopolitan and is stuck on Italo-Mediterranean food only with a smattering of fake Mexican burrito joints”

    Well, that was my whole point!!

    If Laurel St would get more varied cuisine, maybe it would attract more people (day & night), whcih could help support other stores. There is certainly a large enough mutli-national workforce around SC to support more interesting food options than Italian (Piacere) and steak ( Town).

  5. SCGeek on July 7, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    “There is certainly a large enough mutli-national workforce around SC to support more interesting food options ”

    I disagree. The Redwood Shores based F500 firms either have their own cafeterias or are happy with the somewhat-fast food options on that side of 101.

    Castro St and University Ave restaurants are subsidized by all day dining due to the large number of tech companies positioned one block off (almost nobody from Google goes off-site unless it’s to meet with a Facebook recruiter). If we want San Carlos to expand it’s employment base and attract nicer retail options to Laurel St., then the city council should have a development policy that attracts start-ups to the Laurel St. area. Perhaps instead of condos Wheeler Plaza would be better used for ground-level retail combined with a tech incubator in funky Class B office space?

  6. googlegeek on July 9, 2011 at 3:39 am

    Are you talking along the lines of Y Combinator? I think that’s a terrific idea. BTW, Googlelites do go off-campus to eat and get away from familiar surroundings.

  7. JB on July 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Agree Wheeler Plaza is an eyesore, and let’s hope whatever the city decides happens quickly, like that synthetic turf they just put in. I agree with a mixed use development. San Carlos was described to me as The City of Dying or Trying when I first moved here. Seems like it has gotten more diverse since then and some housing for the professional set along and early retirees would work well.

  8. Sc voter on September 9, 2011 at 3:05 am

    Do you know when 1001 laurel will have any businesses leasing space on the ground floor? It’s been vacant for so long.

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