Downtown’s Forgotten History

By Michael Bisch

Provisions for the in lieu fee would also be required for intensification of use, such as with conversion of space from merchandise retail to restaurant, or from residential to office.” – City of Davis Community Development staff recommendation

It is all too easy to forget what 2008 – 2013 was like.  Downtown Davis, like most of the region and a large chunk of the globe, was faced with a triple whammy: 1) the Great Recession; 2) the financial meltdown; and 3) rapidly increasing online competition. Economic development and downtown redevelopment were very challenging propositions during this time. It was next to impossible to encourage, cajole or threaten commercial property owners to reinvest in their properties, to convince lenders to make loans for renovations and redevelopment and to persuade developers to invest in new projects. But unlike much of the region, which was mired in this:

Downtown Davis transitioned with a number of key “use-conversions,” i.e. converting from a lower parking demand use such as office and retail to a higher parking demand use such as restaurants.  Examples abound such as this:


And this:

One of the primary reasons why downtown Davis remained relatively vibrant throughout this very challenging period was because of city policies, including no parking in-lieu fees for use-conversions, parking in-lieu fee waivers for new restaurant construction and a 50% reduction in sewer hook-up fees for restaurants as well as RDA financial support for use-conversions.  That’s right…the city was providing significant financial incentives for use-conversions!

These policies led to two terrific outcomes – we were able to avoid many of the long-term vacancies plaguing the region while making significant progress in the physical and aesthetic appearance of our downtown. Sure, landlords and the city have made some downtown improvements over the past 10 years such as this:


And this:

But many of the improvements we’ve seen to storefronts, streetscapes and buildings were made by commercial tenants and owner/users such as this:


And this:

So while the City Council is deliberating whether to revise the parking in-lieu fee program for use-conversions this evening, the Council might consider whether they want more of this:

Or this:

-Michael Bisch is the owner of Davis Commercial Properties, a provider of commercial property management, leasing and brokerage services. He has served as a volunteer in a number of downtown-related community service organizations such as Davis Arts Alliance, Pathways to Employment and Davis Downtown.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Alan Miller

    After two days of articles and pretty pictures, I still don’t get the “here-a to there-a” point of how the change is a “bad thing”.

    When this was brought up yesterday, the response was to re-quote the same text WITH EMPHASIS.

    1. David Greenwald

      Here was Michael’s comment from yesterday: “at no time in the history of Davis has the parking in-lieu fee program been tied to parking supply management or increases (construction). We have had an in-lieu fee program since the late ’70s. Not a single dollar from the in-lieu fee program has been invested in parking supply management or increases in parking supply.  We have approximately 2,000 public parking spaces in the downtown. The construction of every single space was financed through parcel assessments, RDA increment taxation or the general fund revenue (and possibly parking meter revenue). The program has been used 100% as a financial incentive to stimulate redevelopment.”

      That makes sense.  Now I need to better understand why expanding the in-lieu fee is bad.

        1. Ron

          I assume that a “re-examination” would address whether or not it’s “working well”, both now and in the planned future.  Including potential impacts (both inside and outside the core area) created by increased density, if parking is insufficient.

        2. Alan Miller

          Why change a program that is working well just because some people are ignorant of what it does?

          Thank you all-knowing one.  Clearly there is only one point of view, so there is actually no proposal and no other point of view.  There is no City Council meeting, and no need to comment at meeting that is not taking place with no agenda item.

          Thank you so much for clearing this up.

        3. Mark West

          “What are they changing”

          Look back at your own discussion. The stated justification for changing the fee structure was to increase the amount of money collected to help pay for the construction and management of new parking. The idea was to make it a partial replacement for the lost RDA funds. That would be a fundamental change in the purpose and scope of the program. If our overriding goal is to increase the economic viability of the downtown (and the City in general), changing the in-lieu fee program in this way would be a very poor decision.

        4. Mark West

          “Thank you all-knowing one.”

          I am not ‘all-knowing’ Alan M., but I am willing to read, listen, and learn. I had no clue what the in-lieu program was before Michael’s articles (and didn’t care) but after being made aware, and following up with additional reading, I agreed with his viewpoint. The program works as is, so it is a reasonable question to ask ‘why change it?’ just because some don’t understand its purpose.

          “There is no City Council meeting, and no need to comment at meeting that is not taking place with no agenda item.”

          Please show where I suggested the CC should not have the discussion, or that the item should be removed from the agenda? I don’t care if you disagree with me, Alan M., but please show some integrity and honesty in your comments.

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