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Bayside Board Taps New Chair with Ties to the Past

By Jorge Casuso

It will be back to the future for the Bayside District, which has tapped Wally Marks III to chair the board that oversees the trendy shopping strip where his family's building has stood for more than half a century.

Marks will replace Herb Katz, who as a councilman helped transform the struggling three-block stretch along Third Street into "The Promenade," a popular destination for an estimated 4 million visitors a year.

Katz turned the gavel over last Thursday night with a warning not to politicize the board, which is faced with a major parking crunch in the heart of downtown and skyrocketing rents on the Promenade.

"I know it's going to get tougher and tougher," said Katz, who is running for one of four open seats on the City Council. "I hope you keep politics out of it because that's been the goal since we started this board. Think about the solution, keep the politics out of it and do the best you can."

Marks practices the philosophy that the Promenade must keep its roots in the local community. At a time when steeply rising rents threaten to turn the popular strip into a row of chain outlets, Marks has kept rents in his building affordable in order to keep Midnight Special Bookstore on the strip.

The eclectic - and politically minded store -- is one of the few independent bookshops left on a street that once boasted more than a dozen small book dealers. The low rents also allow Midnight Special to reserve the back of the store for readings, lectures and meetings.

"We need to reinstate the value the Bayside can bring not just for the visitors, but for the community," said Marks, whose father was involved in developing the mall where the family has owned its building since 1946. "We need to encourage owners to give a little back.

"Most owners are opting out for a higher rent," said Marks, who helps run Walter Marks Realty. "One of my biggest opportunities is keeping the ambience on the Promenade and not losing a sense of place.... We don't want to change the feel and sense of place."

Marks hopes to work with city officials to tackle some of the problems - primarily access and parking -- which come with the rapid pace of success.

"One of my major topics is to address the access issue and strengthening the relationship with the city," Marks said. "I think it just has had its highs and lows.... I think the council wants to work with us and they look to groups like ours and residential groups."

The parking shortage around the Promenade is a major issue that the city must grapple with over the next year, Marks said. He believes that while the longstanding parking shortage must be addressed, there are things that can be done now to alleviate the problem.

"There's a real need for parking," Marks said. "It's in real short supply.... But the immediate goal is making parking more efficient and better."

The city already has implemented many of the recommendations made by the Bayside District Board, including consolidating the parking operation downtown and developing methods to direct motorists to open spaces.

But Marks also is continuing to push for better maintenance of the parking structures, which are widely viewed as worn-out and unsafe.

"What impression are we giving people?" Marks said. "This should be a showcase. We've got to ensure that this is a great place to be."

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