Welcome to Orinda, Main Street America and Urban Land Institute!

WUDO Supporters, do you smell progress in the air? We do. There has been some positive momentum with regard to Orinda engaging outside consultants to solve the downtown paradox, and we are starting to get downright hopeful.

Last September, we provided a recap of a City Council meeting where a spirited discussion led to an agreement to engage two organizations to help move the process forward. One of these two organizations, Main Street America, recently came to town to interview stakeholders and begin its study. Orinda’s City Council and several local citizens groups, WUDO included, had the opportunity to be interviewed back in February.  

In the past we have shared a bit about the Urban Land Institute, but what can Main Street America do for Orinda, you ask? The website defines its mission as follows…

For more than 35 years, the National Main Street Center has been helping communities revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. Collectively, the movement is the leading voice for preservation-based economic development and community revitalization across the country. Made up of small towns, mid-sized communities, and urban commercial districts, Main Street America™ represents the broad diversity that makes this country so unique. Working together, the programs that make up the Main Street America network help to breathe new life into the places people call home.

We are encouraged by the MSA’s ‘preservation based economic development’ approach to community revitalization and their quest to  ‘breathe new life into the places people call home’. A coordinated economic development strategy is something we at WUDO have championed since our beginning, and we are excited to see what MSA, which has a successful track record with regard to revitalization, recommends.  

MSA’s Process

When approaching a city such as Orinda, MSA gathers information to develop a global understanding of the community’s vision along with measurable market analysis. From there, it can make actionable recommendations on how we can can move forward to capitalize on our physical, economic and social potential, while remaining sensitive to what the community hopes to achieve.

As part of its desire to learn more about what the community’s vision for downtown the MSA attended a City Council meeting back in February and was able to conduct interviews with the City Council members. Among it strengths, council members listed Orinda’s convenient, friendly and beautiful location. They were quick to point out, however, that the buildings downtown are tired, the downtown is physically divided by the freeway and BART, and despite its small scale and walkability, most people do not walk our downtown -- they park in one lot, do their business and drive down the street to the next lot.  (Guilty! We have definitely dropped off a package at UPS and then driven to Orinda Books.)

When asked about ways to improve our downtown, council members pointed out that locally owned, unique businesses were preferable to big box retailers or traditional suburban strip mall anchors. They also brought up the prospect of a new grocery store and additional restaurants and hoped to create other opportunities to bring residents downtown such as community events. Amen!

It was pointed out that Orinda’s anchors are the Theater on the south side of town and the Community Center on the north side.  We at WUDO like this concept as it reinforces Orinda’s strong sense of community and the role that these centers in play in bringing Orindans together.

In our own interview with MSA in February, WUDO echoed many of the same sentiments. We also pointed to the role that property owners and businesses, in the absence of an Economic Development Director, have played in the shaping (nay deterioration?) of our town, and that we believe in a coordinated and concentrated economic development strategy. We also voiced our hope that from this process, a sense of Orinda as a brand could be formed and promoted in and outside our our town.

Currently the MSA is working on an in-depth economic market analysis of Orinda, which will be shared with the ULI panel as well. The project leader from MSA, Matt Wagner, will present the group's initial transformation strategies to the Downtown Subcommittee in early April (the public will be invited) and conduct a working session with city staff. The, MSA's final recommendations will be presented to City Council in May. The exact date is TBD. 

What's Up with the ULI? 

At the same time that MSA is conducting it's study, the ULI is moving forward in parallel. If you want some interesting reading on downtown's past and present, feast your eyes on the incredibly comprehensive briefing book prepared for the ULI by the planning department team.

The ULI panel of experts will be in town doing its study on April 10th and 11th. We are again looking forward to participating. The ULI will immediately present their recommendations at a joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting on April 11th from 5-8 PM, and a written report will follow in the weeks and months following.

Big kudos to the city planning department whose staff is working extra hard to make both studies happen. Hopefully by late spring/early summer we will have some fresh thinking and solid, actionable recommendations to consider! 

Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from you, WUDO Supporters, on what you’d like for us to discuss with Main Street America and the Urban Land Institute as they study Orinda.  Please email us at info@whatsupdowntown.com with your thoughts.