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Residents rethink the future of downtown

Locals, business owners want eateries, shops, gathering spots
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Jennifer Bortz grew up in San Jose and participated in children’s theater throughout her youth, performing at a downtown theater surrounded by restaurants, hotels, shops and a park.

“(In downtown San Jose), you go and make an evening of it or an afternoon of it if it’s a matinee,” Bortz said. “There was always something going on, always something open. It was everything working together.”

Bortz and her husband, Jason Bortz, run Stand Out Talent, a nonprofit arts production company and training facility with plans to permanently operate in Tower Theater on Vernon Street in downtown Roseville (they’re awaiting final approval from Roseville City Council).

While excited about their new venture, they want to see anchor businesses spring up around them in a downtown still lacking in pedestrian traffic and urban amenities, but with no shortage of vacancies.

The City of Roseville has big plans for the area, as dictated by the Downtown Roseville Specific Plan, which calls for redeveloping this core as a vibrant mix of residential, retail, offices and restaurants.

The plan incorporates a new town square, and links Civic Center to Royer Park and Dry Creek — or “Ray’s River” as some city staff call the creek, after City Manager Ray Kerridge, who has touted the importance of creating a riverfront.

This downtown will help bring Roseville from “urban to metropolitan,” as Kerridge says. But he recently told the Press Tribune, “We don’t want to do a ‘build it and they will come’ (approach).”

Kerridge wants to know what residents think would make downtown a desirable place to spend time.

“We would love to visit downtown Roseville more, but it needs more restaurants and shops,” said resident Sue Jones. “We’d like to see an atmosphere like the Fountains with events happening on the weekends. It would be nice to have a bike-friendly destination, where families can ride, lock up their bikes and enjoy lunch or ice cream.”

Jones says an ice cream or yogurt shop open on the weekends would draw families. She would also like an access route from Downtown Roseville Library to Vernon Street, and a coffeehouse with outdoor seating.

Shady Coffee and Tea operates on Douglas Boulevard, but the establishment remains hidden to those driving down Vernon Street.

“I would love to see some more upscale restaurants and shops downtown, a la Auburn, Nevada City or any of the other multitude of little historic towns in the foothills,” said five-year resident Jen Blumenberg, a mother of two school-age boys.

Blue Line Gallery gets her to visit downtown, but she feels like overall the area has been “kind of abandoned and forgotten.”

“In the summer months, some nice patio dining or a place to congregate with friends and family and enjoy the beautiful evenings would be ideal, as would shops that offer something to look at,” Blumenberg said. “How about small mom-and-pop meat, wine, cheese shops? A little marketplace like the Ferry Building in San Francisco? Bookstores?”

The City Hall Annex, which opened in 1936, has adaptive reuse potential, according to resident Steven Neves.

“This old building should be a restaurant or nightclub, but it will never be,” Neves said. “No one will come into Roseville for entertainment. You get a few of the younger crowd into the bars and nightclubs in the older part of town because they live close and are able to get home safely.”

He said investors don’t view Roseville as friendly to nightlife.

“I have witnessed police sit outside bars and restaurants (in Old Town), stalking patrons,” Neves said. “If you look at the (newspaper), there are 20 arrests for DUIs and one or two other arrests. The city spent an untold amount of money making downtown Roseville beautiful, but any day or night the place is virtually deserted.”

Daytime more than evening seems to bring in the most visitors. Currently, downtown boasts eateries Denny’s Cafe, Vernon Street Grill, A Dash of Panache, Shady Coffee and Tea, Nela’s Mexican Restaurant and several tattoo parlors, barbershops, dress stores and car dealerships or auto-repair shops on Riverside Avenue.

Rustic Grains recently opened on Vernon Street and workers have been renovating the inside of Java Jungle, a coffeehouse, for the past few weeks. The Friday Farmers Bazaar started in Civic Center Plaza in May and runs through October. Downtown Tuesday Nights run through July.

In February, Roseville Theatre Arts Academy hosted its grand opening. The nonprofit organization operates in Roseville Theater, filling a hole left when Civic Theatre West closed in November due to debt.

Stand Out Talent’s founders think their new organization will add to a growing arts scene downtown.

“Our business model is attractive because of the diversity of our programming,” Jason Bortz said. “In order to revitalize any area you need to introduce new things to it.”

Jason and Jennifer Bortz have started co-branding with area restaurants to incentivize people to grab dinner and then head downtown for a show at a discount. So far, they have not been able to find eateries downtown with which to cross-promote.

“We want to create an evening out,” Jason Bortz said. “We don’t want to just throw a party. We want to host a community event.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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What residents think should happen to downtown
• “The place should be filled with knickknack shops, restaurants, bars, antique shops, candy stores, kite stores and the like.” – Steven Neves

• “I can’t think of anything that would get me to go downtown. Face it, town has moved out to where there are broad avenues with easy access to just about anything you’d want.” – William Bandes

• “We would love an inviting downtown conducive to people gathering. We think a little central park is key and shops that draw people, similar to Sonoma or Healdsburg.” – Vikki Fiorenza