WATSONVILLE — The vacant lot on the 300 block of Main Street owned by the Romo family is now up for lease.
Once home to the Stoesser Building, the lot has been empty since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused irreparable damage to the historic structure in the heart of Watsonville’s downtown.
In 2010, the grassy lot across the street from the City Plaza was turned into Romo Park, where the City of Watsonville has held multiple events, including a beer garden during the Strawberry Festival.
Now, the Romos are looking to take advantage of a shifting marketplace in the Watsonville’s downtown area, according to realtor Becky Campos.
“It’s such a great location for retail,” Campos said. “It’s just super.”
Campos said the 0.38-acre property at 351 Main St. has drawn a “buzz” during its first few weeks on the market. About 20 people have called looking to purchase the lot, and a few businesses have made serious inquiries about a possible lease, according to Campos.
The Romos, who own multiple properties throughout town, including Jalisco Restaurant, have no plans to sell.
“They want to hold on to it,” said Campos, who mentioned most lease inquiries have come from restaurants.
Launching a restaurant in downtown Watsonville has been a near-impossible task over the last 17 years, as the city’s stringent alcohol ordinance passed in 2002 hamstrung their ability to offer complete services. But a recent decision from the Watsonville City Council to replace the old policy with new, flexible limitations that allow 10 percent of all businesses in the downtown corridor to be alcohol-related has given businesses new opportunities.
Brando Sencion, who with brother Kristian will soon open the Slice Project pizzeria in downtown, said he hopes recent changes to the ordinance serve as an invitation to other businesses that were once afraid to set up on Main Street.
“For us, we would’ve opened up in downtown regardless, because that’s where we wanted to be,” Sencion said. “But I definitely think that the changes make the area more attractive to move in. It opens up so many possibilities from a business standpoint.”
Sencion said the lot would be a perfect location for an outdoor hub similar to Container Park in Las Vegas.
“I don’t see it as competition; I see other businesses moving in as a positive,” he said. “I’d like for as many good restaurants to move into the area and make Watsonville a destination for great food.”
He does, however, hope the forthcoming addition turns into an asset for the community.
“I hope whoever moves in understands Watsonville and helps build the culture, adds on to the culture,” he said.
The Stoesser building, built in 1872, was a once part of the “heart of the city,” according to Pajaro Valley Historical Association archivist Lou Arbanas. It housed businesses such as Woolworths before the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the aging building.
“Watsonville ended up with a busted economy and has done its best to rebuild,” Arbanas said.
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker and staff have recently begun bolstering efforts to rebuild the downtown.
Along with the reworked alcohol ordinance, the City is also in the midst of developing a Downtown Specific Plan that aims to rethink certain aspects of the corridor. Along with possible adjustments to the roadways and sidewalks recently proposed in the still-developing Complete Streets Plan, some housing ordinances could see changes that would promote mixed-used housing and commercial developments.
“The City is limited in our ability to grow out, so we need to be smart about maximizing infill development opportunities,” Huffaker said. “I see the downtown as being one of our biggest areas of opportunity, with underutilized or vacant properties that could serve as future mixed-use housing and commercial developments.”