• Otter Views: Repurposing

    by Tom Stevens

    A New Year’s resolution has me bicycling to the Monterey Sports Center a couple of days each week. En route I pass a long, narrow building with tall windows and a peaked roof. I’m told it was once a train station.

    I’d passed the building many times previously but never gave it much thought. It always seemed unused except for a seaward-facing plank deck. There nets, crates, cable spools and other marine gear appeared and vanished with the seasons, like tidal flotsam on a beach.

    I’ve been paying the building more heed since The Monterey Herald reported that the city has been seeking a commercial tenant willing to repurpose it. The story mentioned two likely finalists: a restaurant and a regional market.

    As I cycle past the building these days, I no longer view it as a defunct train station or a storage platform for fishing gear. Now I ponder its possible future, and my wheels spin to a new mantra. Restaurant or market? Restaurant or market? Restaurant or market?

    Either would seem a fitting use of the space, and each would seemingly benefit from the site’s ample parking, easy access and choice location. The building looks spacious enough to accommodate a good many diners or several diverse purveyors. And its shoreline railroad legacy could add historic cachet to either venture.

    Both repurposing schemes face caveats. Downtown Monterey and its various wharves are already thickly barnacled with restaurants that might not welcome a new eatery in the neighborhood. Likewise, vendors at the Tuesday farmer’s market, the Sand City expo and other outlets might feel iffy about a rival purveyor of beach glass pendants and shiitake mushrooms.

    So, pluses and minuses on both sides, but that brings us no closer to clarity. The mantric dilemma remains: restaurant or market?

    How about: restaurant and market?

    The San Francisco Ferry Building comes to mind as a possible template, albeit on a far vaster scale. There, purveyors of regional foodstuffs and beverages, handcrafts and botanicals share a once-moribund terminal with several thriving restaurants. A few venues combine retail sales and food service. Patrons can shop, eat, and gaze out over the waterfront, keeping a wary eye on piratical seagulls.

    It seems the old Monterey train station could offer a similar experience, if on a much reduced footprint. The piratical seagulls and the waterfront are already there, as is the historic transportation legacy. Just carve out interior spaces and window stalls for approved vendors, bracket those with charming cafes at both ends of the building and presto! A multi-use repurposing.

    I know. I know. If it were that easy, it would already have been done. But I try not to let pesky practicalities derail a promising train of thought. Now that we have a rough blueprint for the business, we’ll need a good name, something whimsical but not off-putting. Up in Marin County, the town of Mill Valley repurposed its old train station into a book store and indoor-outdoor café. It’s called the “Book Depot.”

    Depending on what’s sold there, the Monterey project could be Fisherman’s Scarf, The Scallion Station, Downtown Abby’s, Teas of the High Seas, or something. As you see, business names are not my forte, so I’ll leave readers to hash that out among yourselves. The only rule: “Ye Olde” and “Shoppe” may not be used. Carmel owns those.

    Once the former railroad station has a clever new name, we can free-associate on the patron’s experience there, starting with access and arrival. While two stop-lit street entrances should ensure trouble-free vehicular access, the site’s proximity to the plaza and the rec trail should attract cyclists and pedestrians as well. They just mustn’t all convene at the same time.

    As to arrival, if the building is to have a main entrance, will that be on the street side, or the harbor side? Or will patrons enter at one end and proceed past the vending stalls sequentially, as if walking through a train? Will the entrance or entrances need canopies? And what about a distinctive icon and color scheme for the canopies?

    It’s a lot to consider. And that doesn’t even include the commercial layout. I see a central aisle delivering patrons to vendors’ stalls lining both long walls. That way the vendors can also sell through the tall station windows in fair weather. The cafes at the building’s ends will need to be cozy but versatile, offering indoor and outdoor seating as well as take-out service for passersby. Ideally, the cafes will use the vendors’ wares in their cuisines, decor and presentation.

    That’s one template, but there are hundreds more. When the right one arises, it will likely be local. As its historic barnyards and bath houses attest, this area is a virtual Paris of repurposing.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 1, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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