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San Rafael could bring in significant revenue to offset the city's structural budget deficit by converting Fourth Street into a pedestrian-only mall, according to architect Scott Adams.
"The idea is to make San Rafael the place to go," he said at a small meeting with Fourth Street business owners and residents Monday night.
The Fourth Street Mall would create a sense of excitement for residents and tourists, and would generate significant sales tax revenue for the city as well as boost local businesses, Adams said.
His plan includes two phases. In the first phase, traffic would be blocked off on Fourth Street from Lootens Place to A Street and a music pavilion and a hotel would be constructed near downtown.
In the second phase, the pedestrian-only area on Fourth Street would extend from Lincoln Avenue to D Street and include shuttle service from the transit center and surrounding neighborhoods. The shuttle would provide more accessibility to seniors, Adams said.
Many believe the plan would also boost tourism due to the , the and at that was recently approved by the City Council. A hotel alone could bring in over $30 million in spending, and over $2 million in sales tax revenues to the city, Adams said.
San Rafael has been dealing with large scale budget deficits since 2008. This year, officials faced a $4.4 million budget gap
"The question is how long do the people want this to go on?" Adams said. "There is an urgency, and this plan is meant to address that urgency."
Funds from the Federal Highway Administration would pay for the construction to make Fourth Street pedestrian only. The music pavilion would be funded by private investors. "So there would be no cost for the city," Adams said.
"I think the project will sell itself," said Aref Ahmadia, owner of on Fourth Street.
Ahmadia closes his cafe at 6 p.m. on weekends because there's nothing going on to bring customers in to eat. If the project comes to the city and is approved, he believes it will transform Fourth Street and bring in more foot traffic.
"It will be busy, ongoing and nonstop," he said.
One of the main concerns business owners would face should Fourth Street be pedestrian only would be accessbility for deliveries and to customers due to a lack of parking, said Rick Wells, president of the .
"Most of the businesses downtown depend on deliveries of some kind," he said.
The Chamber has not taken a position on the concept, and Wells has not seen the details of the proposal.
The plan would also need to address the Fourth Street transportation lines that would be disrupted, Wells said.
According to the plan, the Fourth Street Mall would bring in more customers due to higher foot traffic to make up for the loss of customers due to less parking spaces on the street.
Adams plans to hold more community meetings to discuss the plans before he presents the proposal to city staff.
Next public meeting: Friday Oct. 14, West End Cafe. 2 p.m.