As downtown Salinas undergoes a revitalization, a still-vacant building has yet to find a suitor. | New

A curious thing happened in Salinas amid the pandemic, when many Americans started working remotely and offices emptied: Office vacancy rates went down, contrary to the national trend.

Greg Findley, who has been a commercial real estate broker in Salinas for about 30 years, says that in the first quarter of 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic began, vacant commercial office space in the city was 2.8%. In the first quarter of 2022, that number was just 2.1%, according to quarterly reports published by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, Findley’s employer.

Findley attributes this to the fact that agriculture is considered an essential industry and many other businesses in Salinas—accountants, law firms—help keep the industry running.

“Agriculture permeates our entire business community,” he says, adding that the local commercial property market has proven to be “Covid-resistant”.

Along with this resilience has been a burgeoning revitalization of downtown Salinas: The Rabobank building at 301 Main St. is being converted into a mixed-use building with 49 studio apartments, while the ground floor ground and basement will become the next outpost of Alvarado Street Brewery. . At 300 Main Street, the long-vacant Bruhn Building is being converted into 19 apartments, with some commercial space.

But much of the vacant commercial real estate downtown is still on the market, waiting to be transformed: the old Californian Salt Flats building at 123 W. Alisal St., which developer Tony Flores bought in 2016 for $1.5 million. Flores owns about 20 properties in Monterey County, according to the county assessor’s office.

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The building has been vacant since 2017, but has long been a vital presence downtown since its construction in 1949.

Currently Flores, who declined to comment for this story, has the property for sale at $2.499 million. There are site plans to convert it into 40 apartments and commercial space on the ground floor.

Those plans, approved by the city in 2019, have since expired. But getting them re-approved would be an easy lift. Indeed, in 2018 the city council approved an adaptive reuse ordinance that streamlines the approval of the conversion of non-residential buildings in the city center, built at least 50 years before the application – or a historic building outside the center -city – in residential properties. Under the order, applications do not have to go to councils for approval – they are ministerial and handled by city staff.

“It’s a great prescription,” says Salinas Planning Director Megan Hunter. “As far as I know, we are the only ones in Monterey County that have [it].”

Findley, who negotiated the sale of the Bruhn Building and the deal from Alvarado Street to the Rabobank Building, is also working on the sale of the Californian building.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of downtown,” he says, adding that the Californian is “the biggest remaining redevelopment opportunity” in the area.

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