If you take a stroll through downtown right now, you may see a woman rushing to her car with takeout food and hear men laughing in a nearly empty barbershop. Cars drive down a busy street passing vacant storefronts. But there’s still plenty of hope for the downtown districts. Business owners and city officials have been working together to create a renovation plan. The Chambers spoke with the people spearheading the revitalization campaigns in Downtown Vacaville and Fairfield.
David Gassaway, the newly appointed Assistant City Manager of Fairfield, is optimistic and glad to be working on the downtown project. Gassaway along with Fairfield’s City Manager Stefan Chatwin are both recent hires. “The community has been frustrated that nothing is happening, but now that we’re on board, things are moving along.”
When speaking with the Chamber, Gassaway was excited to bring up the plans for the Heart of Fairfield. “The Heart of Fairfield is an adopted plan that started in 2017 with three distinct areas. One area is the Fairfield Transportation Center, the second is West Texas Street, and the third is Downtown. Our goal is to revitalize the areas. We want, particularly Downtown, to be a social and entertainment hub.” Gassaway says this is a 20-year plan which also tackles new housing and the homeless population.
Unlike many cities that run a Business Improvement District (BID), which helps with street maintenance, marketing, even policing the homeless, Fairfield runs what Gassaway describes as an old-school PBIA, Parking and Business Improvement Area. “We don’t have a formal BID (Business Improvement District); we have a PBIA so the money we get for the area comes from a business license tax. The revenue is only $30,000 per year.” Instead of relying on the PBIA money to improve the area, the City of Fairfield is focused on making it easier for property owners to bring in new business.
The city will start by making the zoning codes and application processes cheaper. Additionally, they want to streamline the process to make approval quicker. There is also an inventive package for commercial property owners known as the Facade Improvement Grant. “The City of Fairfield’s Facade, Outdoor Seating, and Signage Improvement Program is a 50/50 matching program designed to support businesses throughout the Heart of Fairfield Plan Area, providing the opportunity for property and business owners to reinvest in their properties,” according to the City of Fairfield website. Eligible improvements include storefront and entrance decoration, exterior signs, outdoor seating, lighting, windows, painting, and more. Restaurants such as Rustwater and Saffron have already utilized the Facade Grant. You can find more information such as grant amounts here.
In addition, the COF has a “Retail to Restaurant” initiative; it will partner property owners with architects to transform old retail space into restaurant use so more people can come to the area and stay while sipping on a coffee or beer and lounging with friends.
“Think of it like an iceberg. Above the surface you see a bit of action going on, but underneath there are plenty of committees in action and planning,” says Gassaway. As early as next month, the COF will put in more parklets and build additional outdoor dining space. By June, COF will have installed traffic control devices and removable bollards to close down Texas Street for events and Farmers’ Markets. “We are still building out our event schedule, but we want this to be the cultural and entertainment part of town.”
Twenty minutes up I-80 East sits Downtown Vacaville. Downtown Vacaville hosts over 650 businesses. Brooke Fox, the Executive Director, and Aisha Gutierrez, the Executive Assistant, are the two employees who manage the Downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District (DVBID).
In the latest DVBID Business Plan, it states that the goal for this year is maintaining and increasing the revenue of the BID. “[It] is critical to its mission to continue to deliver business enhancement services to its merchant members.” Fox told the Chamber that the money from the BID goes towards marketing and special events. Eventually, she would like to see Downtown Vacaville add a PBID, a Property Business Improvement District, to generate more funding. The PBID is funded by the property owners in the district and this would help keep the area clean and safe. However, it is not something that can happen overnight. It will need to happen post-pandemic once the economy normalizes.
In the meantime, there are a few items DVBID has planned for 2021. The Farmers’ Market events are the focus. Downtown Vacaville is taking over as the managers of the Farmers’ Market at Andrew’s Park. This will make it easier for local vendors to join by reducing their setup fees. At the time of this article’s publication, vendor applications for the Farmers’ Market are still being accepted. You can download the application here.
Other events on the schedule include the Spring Craft Fair on April 17th. Local retailers are encouraged to set up a booth and display their goods, and the restaurants in the area can set up outdoor dining to accommodate hungry visitors.
May 1st is Vaca De Mayo. This is in partnership with Los Reyes Restaurante and the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a day-long event honoring local heroes and business owners within the Hispanic, Spanish and Mexican community. It will be similar to the Amplify Our Voice: Black History Month Celebration we just had in February” says Fox and Gutierrez.
Lastly, Fox wants to tackle the vacancy issues in Downtown, with eight vacant storefronts on Main Street alone. “We are big on collaboration, brainstorming ideas, and developing programs,” says Fox. “This is a great opportunity for young business owners. We’re here to help and owning a small business in Downtown is more achievable than people think.”
In 2020, 61 new businesses and 177 jobs came to the downtown area. Some of these businesses include Beer40, Case Electric, School of Rock, and Sonoma Springs Brewing Company.
To learn more about Downtown Vacaville, you can visit its website here.