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  Richmond: Improvement Agency Says Downtown on Comeback
August 12, 2013

Richmond: Improvement agency says downtown on comeback
By Robert Rogers rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted:   08/12/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT | Updated:   86 min. ago

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Clyde Young, center, of Richmond, and two women dance to Reed Fromer Band during the first of...
RICHMOND -- One year after the City Council approved the formation of a district aimed at revitalizing the long-beleaguered downtown, hopes are high, but progress is mixed.
The Downtown Richmond Property-based Business Improvement District (DRPBID), which is run by the nonprofit Richmond Main Street Initiative, is using its roughly $183,000 in annual dues from member businesses to beef up security, embark on a new marketing campaign, fund public art projects and support a series of successful festivals to draw people downtown, said Amanda Elliott, the Main Street Initiative's executive director. But luring new businesses has been a challenge. One new business opened this year, Richmond Denim Exchange, but one was lost as well. Local bicycle shop Richmond SPOKES relocated to Oakland.
"We are in conversations with some restaurant owners but nothing concrete yet," Elliott said. "But the downtown improvement district has solid support because people are starting to see the good work coming out of it."
The work has been on full display over the past month, which has marked the anniversary of the launch of the improvement district. On July 24, the Music on the Main concerts drew hundreds downtown for live blues and dancing in the streets. The Healthy Village Farm Stand sold locally grown produce every first Friday all summer through Aug. 2. The Richmond Main Street Farmers' Market, sponsored by the Main Street Initiative and the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association, sets up every Wednesday from May to October.
Late-summer events are also on the schedule, including an encore of the Music on the Main event Aug. 28 that will feature salsa and reggae music. On Sept. 21, the annual Spirit & Soul festival and fundraiser will returns with live music and an outdoor marketplace with local artisans, entrepreneurs, food and wine. Street banners created by local artist Richard Muro Salazar are set to be unveiled later this month. The flurry of activities has also drawn more dollars downtown, Elliott said, thanks to sponsors such as Kaiser Permanente, Mechanics Bank and Chevron.
The district, which is bound by Sixth Street, Barrett and Nevin avenues and Harbour Way, was in steep decline by the time Hilltop mall opened at the city's northern outskirts in the late 1970s. But the new district is a continuation of recent years' successes, supporters say, as downtown has slowly returned to life, thanks to millions in public and private investment, new streetscapes, the growth of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and the BART transit station.
Key to a full revival, Elliott said, is to dash any lingering concerns about safety. The Main Street Initiative has hired a private security and maintenance company to clean the area and augment existing police forces. While violent crime is rare downtown, there was a spate of robberies over the summer targeting BART riders. Councilman Nat Bates praised Elliott and the Main Street Initiative but said he and his council colleagues should do more to help draw businesses downtown.
"They are doing the best they can with what they have downtown, and I commend them," Bates said. "But until we show that we are a steady, business-friendly community, we're not going to be able to attract the kind of private capital that will really make things take off."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.