Elected officials, business owners and community members gathered in downtown Hollister on Nov. 14 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of San Benito Street. Within half an hour, the street was open and filled with vehicles and pedestrians, many sitting in newly built parklets for lunch.
The Hollister City Council unanimously approved transforming San Benito Street into one-way traffic flow on Oct. 19, as well as a parklet program for businesses to utilize for outdoor dining and retail. Traffic now runs southbound from Fourth Street to South Street, with parallel parking spaces changed to diagonal.
The last two weeks of the beautification project were particularly hectic, said Hollister City Manager Brett Miller. “When you’re changing a two-way road to one way, it’s amazing how many signs you need to put up.”
The change to diagonal parking was all about safety, Miller said. By backing into a parking space, drivers can see oncoming car and bike traffic, and people can unload their trunks on the sidewalk instead of in the street.
“Plus, when you open the doors, you’re preventing the kids from running out into the street,” he said.
Hollister public works crews worked until 10 p.m. the night prior in order to complete a beautification project with a cost of $245,000. Miller said the city allocated $80,000 in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and additional street funds for the project. The county also allocated $150,000 in CARES Act monies to assist.
San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez, a member of the ad hoc committee to determine how to spend the county’s $6.5 million in CARES Act funds, said supervisors decided to chip in $150,000 “to get [the city] across the finish line for the beautification and downtown parkway program.”
Outgoing Supervisor Anthony Botelho, another ad hoc committee member, said the redesigned street would draw visitors not only from the local community, but from outside San Benito County.
“People have been going on Highway 25 out of town for work and for their leisure activities. Well, now we’ve got a lot to offer right here in downtown Hollister,” he said.
Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, San Benito Bene owner Katherine Szeto already had her parklet ready for business. She said she was excited to “be a part of a brand-new hometown neighborhood feel.”
“It has a wonderful potential to bring a sense of community like there was [in] downtown over 30 years ago with the synergy of everyone coming together,” Szeto said. “I get to see my neighbors outside interacting with their customers and meeting new people as they walk around feeling safe and enjoying downtown Hollister.”
Michelle Leonard, president and CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, told BenitoLink she was overjoyed at the outcome of the parklet program.
“It was a group effort of the county, Hollister, the Downtown Association, and the Chamber as we worked together with the businesses over the last few weeks,” she said. “It’s so amazing and there’s so much energy.”
State Assemblyman Robert Rivas spoke during the ceremony and reminded those lined up across San Benito Street that the first time he heard about doing something to revitalize downtown was in 2003.
“Now here we are in 2020 talking about this accomplishment,” he said. “Government moves slow, especially recently where there’s so much division. This year is something we can believe in and we have to commend our mayor and our city council because they have demonstrated what can happen when we put aside politics and work together for the benefit of our community.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he was excited to see the fruition of everyone’s efforts finally come to pass.
“This has been a 20-year dream and we’re finally doing it, and it’s going to be permanent,” he said. “We’re going to have more of our residents coming down to enjoy their own town.”
The next phase, Velazquez said, is to get local residents comfortable with the new look.
“We promote it within our own community, and once they love it people from out of town will want to come because they heard about it,” he said.
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