Concord Reinvents Its City Center To Make It a Place to Live, Work and Play

By Mary Best on April 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm EST

PHOTO CREDIT: Wes Aldridge

In Concord‚ cars seem to be quietly fading from the center of the metropolitan universe.

Thanks to the forethought and planning of the city’s Redevelopment Agency‚ this affluent suburb 30 miles northeast of San Francisco is reinvent ing its traditional downtown so residents can live‚ work‚ shop and play all within walking distance.

“As the downtown revitalization project has continued‚ retail has strengthened‚ which has a lot to do with the growth of the area‚” says Keith McMahon‚ president/CEO of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. “We anticipate significant growth as the downtown revitalization efforts con tinue‚ and we look forward to many new projects coming to the downtown area.”

At the center of Concord’s downtown – and its revitalization efforts – stands Todos Santos Plaza. Concord was orig inally named Todos Santos‚ which is Spanish for All Saints‚ in 1868‚ but the town was renamed Concord for the Massachusetts town of Revolutionary War fame a year later.

The central plaza‚ however‚ retained the town’s original name and today encompasses a city block and comprises a commercial district‚ shopping‚ hous ing‚ a farmers’ market and a park.

Reviving the Heart of the City

In the early 1970s‚ as families fled the cities for suburbia‚ Concord formed a redevelopment agency to alleviate urban blight. By the late 1990s‚ the agency developed a strategy of smart growth and implemented a multiyear economic development plan to revital ize downtown while keeping tight reigns on growth management‚ sustainable development and informed planning.

A key element to the success of any revitalization plan includes transit-oriented development. Fortunately‚ Concord has taken full advantage of BART – the Bay Area Rapid Transit system – that transports residents to and from the San Francisco and Oakland areas. And with fewer cars‚ there are fewer congested highways‚ fewer frustrated drivers and a cleaner environment.

Another convenience: Concord pro vides free wireless access throughout the core downtown areas.

Only a Stroll Away

Another important aspect of the agency’s plan is to foster economic growth in the downtown area by preserving the mom-and-pop stores that for years have sustained the shopping district.

Today‚ while a few chain stores‚ such as Starbucks‚ have crept in‚ the majority of retail outlets in and around Todos Santos Plaza are independently owned.

Shops‚ sidewalk cafes‚ and restau rants are mixed with office buildings‚ hotels and apartments in various stages of development.

One of the city’s most ambitious building plans is the development of an upscale housing complex called Renaissance Square Condominiums. Signature Properties is already con structing the first phase‚ which will include 314 units. Ultimately‚ the property will consist of townhouses‚ flats and lofts. In addition‚ amenities such as a pool‚ social lounge and fitness room will add to its appeal.

Most importantly‚ however‚ is Renaissance’s proximity to Concord’s revitalized downtown. According to Helen Bean‚ chair of Concord’s Rede velopment Agency‚ a central aspect of the city’s redevelopment strategy is to attract families and homeowners to the downtown area.

“We feel this will help make the downtown the center of our commu nity‚” she says. “And so far‚ everything is going very well.”

That‚ too‚ is the hope of Vahid Safairi‚ owner of Toscana Ristorante. He so firmly believes in the success of the city’s downtown revival that a little more than a year ago he opened a restaurant across from Todos Santos Plaza and a couple of blocks from the Renaissance.

“I saw this as a big opportunity‚” he says. “And I’m betting on it. One of the reasons I moved here was because I knew single homes and condos were coming.”

So far‚ there are positive signs that revitalization efforts are augmenting the city’s family-friendly philosophy.

With Todos Santos Plaza serving as a community-gathering place‚ families come together to hear free summer music performances‚ and the city’s younger residents are magnets to the area’s playground. Every Tuesday‚ families take advantage of the local farmers’ market‚ and the plaza frequently hosts local celebrations‚ festivals and carnivals.

And each December‚ Santa even takes a stroll through downtown Concord‚ surely admiring such a sweet slice of Americana – with a forward-thinking touch.

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