Monday, October 31, 2005

A glimpse at Vallejo's waterfront future

October 30, 2005

A glimpse at Vallejo's future (Editorial)

Picture, if you will, in your mind the waterfront development plan actually finished.

For longtimers, wipe away, if you can, the cobwebs that have gathered in your imagination over the past 30 years while waterfront plan after waterfront plan has been proposed, analyzed, discussed, redrawn, reheard and, eventually, disappeared into a mysterious black hole.

Imagine, now, the sights that should exist within the next few years.

Starting at Georgia and Santa Clara streets, where you parked in the new, clean, well-lighted parking structure, you walk toward what once was the downtown post office.

The first thing you notice is all the landscaping. The attention to detail in types of plants, positioning, and the creation of a village-like atmosphere puts you in a pretty good mood. You feel safe.

As you face what once was the post office, it's replaced by a cluster of shops and stores, with attractive condos where many of those people who use those businesses live. Some are longtime Vallejoans, delighted to be living in the city's thriving core. Some are people new to the area, charmed and lured by the prospect of a convenient, comfortable, more-affordable way of life.

Pick up a snack at one of those shops, and head down Georgia toward the waterfront.

The line might be a little long for your snack, since these places of business are popular, but the wait is well worth it, you've heard, because this eatery relocated from the East Bay and it's food is to die for.

You've heard correctly, you decide after the first taste, and begin your walk.

On your right, just past the library, are still more shops and boutiques, but you don't have time to poke around there just now.

Besides, people living in the condos on that side of the Georgia Street and Vallejoans from across town are crowding the three new designer shops having their grand opening.

Further down Georgia, to the right, you note the boutique hotel that looks like a pretty good place to stay, especially with so much parking available alongside it at the new parking garage.

You ponder why they call it a "boutique" hotel and decide it's just another way of saying luxury hotel, but on the smaller side. Nice landscaping, you note. Nice place. The regional conference you attended there last week made you proud to call Vallejo your home.

Though it gets a little tiresome, these new people are always gushing: "I never thought Vallejo would be this classy." We've always been classy.

In truth, you have to admit, the new buildings do look better as they blend in with the historic, and now well-tended, downtown buildings. In fact, the look of this area is simply welcoming. They've made buildings with awnings, intriguing storefronts, varying rooflines, and well-thought-out entrances.

It's not stark urbanity, it's more like a village. The stucco-and-stone construction works well. Storefronts have a subdued look - no more huge, gaudy paint on windows, but clean storefronts. The signage is tasteful, some of it whimsical.

Continuing on are the new apartments with another group of shops - one with fresh produce daily advertised, another with "vegetarian" signs everywhere - but you're more the meat type. The new premium meat market downtown is more your style.

Thinking of downtown, you make a mental note that there is a new play opening next week at the Empress and you'd better make dinner reservations at that fusion restaurant across the street. It's always crowded.

You take a left on Mare Island Way deciding to save for another day the views to the right: The restored wetlands with that boardwalk, the public gardens, the Discovery Center with its caf . The high-priced village-style houses down there have all been sold, and River Park has rebounded to one of the area's best nature walks.

Stopping a moment at the end of Georgia Street, a sweeping view of the waterfront shows what can happen with careful design, compromise, and thought. Lots of thought. Decades of thought. This place is a showcase.

You head across the street toward the ferry building and festival green. The crosswalk itself is a work of art with a crossing signal that counts down the time you have to cross.

People are sitting around the gazebo, listening to a musician and enjoying the warm sun.

Historic markers go along the walkway, noting Vallejo's shipbuilding past. Here and there are sculptures that reflect this heritage.

Now you can walk farther out over the river on carefully placed overlooks. Comfortable, forest green benches are readily available - even the new, forest green trash "housing" looks good. Canary palms and frontier elms give a distinctive look. The entire area's lighting, landscaping and design has turned what once was a pleasant walking area to a place to linger and savor. Though a lot of people are still getting in a hearty day's walk, you note. It's a good walk, now that it runs along the entire waterfront with no locked fences. Where the sidewalk ends is not here.

You would go on farther toward Sonoma Boulevard to check out the relocated post office, the new housing and retail down that way, and the public park with its amphitheater, but decide to leave that for another day.

Two more musicians have ambled onto the gazebo, the crowd has grown, and it's time to stop gawking and start enjoying.

Clearly, to examine the details that have gone into this entire area is more than a one-day outing.

And you know this is why it took so long to decide on the most-perfect plan.

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