Center of affection
With a new park as the ‘focal point,’ Paradise redevelops downtown
In the heart of town, with cars whirring by on perimeter streets and the clouds overhead turning ominously gray, workers hunker down for a busy day of construction. This isn’t just any other job site—it’s a plaza park, the centerpiece of a plan to revitalize downtown. Right now, there’s more concrete than greenery, but that will change by the end of March or early April, when the fences come down and families come in.
This is not the biggest project afoot in Paradise. Pending the resolution of legal tangles (which proponents and opponents have said is inevitable), a shopping center will spring up at the Skyway entrance to town. The Planning Department is working on the Southeast Paradise Area Specific Plan, the first ever undertaken by the community. Infill developments are underway elsewhere.
The Ridge is a work in progress, and nowhere is that more evident than at the corner of Pearson Road and Black Olive Drive.
“Community Park is a major project,” Town Manager Chuck Rough said, “not only in terms of being a downtown park, but also as a symbol of revitalization.”
A stone marker denotes the location’s historical significance: the location of the town’s first railroad station. The only train there now is the one that’s part of the park design, but town leaders hope the site performs a similar function.Paradise doesn’t have a civic center per se. Town Hall is on the Skyway; the police station is across from Community Park; the post office is in the upper part of town on Clark Road.
Paradise also doesn’t have a commercial center. Antique and specialty shops line the Skyway, but the two biggest shopping centers are on Clark.
Community Park is the first big step in changing that. It’s what Rough calls “the central focal point” of the current redevelopment area, a place of coalescence for town government and local businesses.
Town Hall staff will move into a new building on the parcel where the police station currently sits. The police and fire departments will move to a new public safety center a block away on Almond Street. Land across from the park, purchased by the town, has been earmarked for stores and parking.
“The new civic center would be a focal point for a downtown,” said Ed Salome, executive director of the Paradise Ridge Chamber of Commerce. “They [town officials] are encouraging shops and a pedestrian-friendly environment in that area. It’s gravitating toward that—it’s just going to take time.”Three to five years, in fact—the civic center still is in the planning stage. Rough (pronounced “row") will take a task force on field trips to cities with new public buildings to help forge the plan.
Yet already the redevelopment push in that part of town is paying dividends. Two years ago, that Skyway-centered area overtook the Clark corridor as the town’s top area for retail growth. Rough says the money invested by the town in programs such as façade renovation have generated returns of 200 percent or more.
“These indicators are good trends,” Rough said, and Salome echoes his upbeat assessment on redevelopment: “It’s really helped the businesses in Paradise tremendously.”
Rough came to the Ridge about 10 years ago, around the same time Salome did. Both have witnessed a transformation in Paradise—not just physical, but also emotional, which fostered the physical."When people talked about Paradise, they always talked about opportunities lost—promise and potential not realized,” Rough recalled. “Promise and potential were spoken about in future terms.”
At the time, he said, two factions “paralyzed momentum,” and “the large moderate middle” felt disenfranchised. Now, “the momentum of the community has changed. There’s a lot of community spirit, not just in community groups but on Town Council, and things are moving forward. That’s the dramatic paradigm shift.
“If I’d floated the idea of redevelopment when I got here, I’d have been run out of town on a rail. But voters approved it in 2002, and that’s given people a sense of optimism.”
There hasn’t been unanimous acceptance of development, though. A group called Save Our Gateway has gone to court to block the construction of a retail-restaurant-hotel complex in the wide median dividing the Skyway. An appeals court ruled in SOG’s favor regarding an environmental-impact report, but developer Fred Katz is modifying his plans, and the town expects the project—which got voter approval—to go through.
“The project itself, with the topography of the land, will sit lower than the level of the land,” Rough said, “so from various vantage points, you wouldn’t see it.”
Its presence will be conspicuous in the town’s ledger, however, thanks to the sales tax it will generate. Sales taxes fuel Paradise—the Butte County Grand Jury noted as much in its 2006 report—so Rough is eagerly awaiting the Skyway center.Meanwhile, in the southeast corner of town, Sierra Preservation Partners have a conservation-and-construction project in mind. The group has bought 640 acres abutting and due south of the old Oak Creek Estates subdivision site (which, following a seven-year legal battle, was not developed). SPP would build some ranchette-type houses on acreage beyond town limits and a subdivision at Oak Creek, but most of the land would become a conservation easement.
That area falls into the Southeast Specific Plan, which Rough hopes will include other property owners. Affordable housing is a key issue, so he’s excited about townhouse developments on Skyway (behind Wells Fargo) and near Clark and Pearson.
None of this distracts town officials from downtown, and from the efforts of local people to flourish there.
“We really have encouraged home-grown business,” Rough said. “Most studies will tell you that you can waste a lot of money trying to entice chain stores to your community. The real value comes from home grown.”