By Dan Pulcrano, Pajaronian CEO
When Watsonville issued a request for proposals on the city-owned Porter Building in late 2019, the idea of restoring a historic gem caught our eye. Our company has deep roots in this region and has purchased and rehabilitated buildings in Santa Cruz, Gilroy and San Jose for our offices—because we believe in investing in the communities we serve.
We supported the stated economic development objectives by maximizing the benefits to the city: a sales tax-generating, employment-creating, farm-to-table modern Italian restaurant operated by a noted restaurateur; a transient occupancy tax-generating microhotel; and offices for one of Watsonville’s two oldest businesses, The Pajaronian.
Shortly after we submitted, the pandemic hit, escalating construction costs, changing the economics of the dining industry and delaying by almost a year the city’s consideration of the proposals. While we still believe in this project, we are concerned about the direction the discussion has turned, pitting two worthy initiatives against one another and creating unnecessary division in the community.
The arts community’s critical need for studio and exhibition space needs to be addressed. We believe that the city should look for alternatives that can provide Pajaro Valley Arts a venue for its important work. We don’t think it makes economic sense for local creatives to have to invest years of time to complete an expensive and complicated historical building renovation—and to have to raise millions of dollars for a real estate project instead of directly supporting artists—in order to have a venue for artistic expression. It doesn’t pencil out, either, to consign a key community asset to less than its highest and best use.
Until there’s a plan for the local cultural community, we will step back from pursuing the Porter project. Our desire to participate in revitalizing downtown Watsonville and have a permanent home in the community is tempered with the patience of our 153 years here.
The city of Watsonville should continue to pursue sensible economic growth strategies so that downtown can return as the heart of the city and maximize revenues to fund services. It should also embrace the arts as a vital element of community life. Both goals should proceed in tandem, not at the expense of one another.
Dan Pulcrano is CEO of the Pajaronian, as well as its sister publications, Good Times, Aptos Life and Press Banner.