By Lisa P. White
Staff Writer, Contra Costa Times & Bay Area News Group
MARTINEZ -- John Stevens, the new chief executive officer of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, believes the keys to a thriving downtown include strategic marketing, more housing and business diversity.
Stevens, 59, has a background in nonprofit management, fundraising and business. He comes to the chamber from a stint as executive director of Rebuilding Together East Bay-North, the Berkeley affiliate of a nonprofit that refurbishes houses for low-income elderly and disabled homeowners.
Originally from St. Louis, Stevens ran his own residential construction and property management company in Dallas. Later, he worked in Washington, D.C., for a consulting firm that did fundraising for political candidates and nonprofit organizations. Stevens replaces Mary Peinado, who was let go in August after just three months on the job.
"I think that we have not done a good job of marketing Amtrak as a means of transportation for tourism to our city and the events that we do here," said Stevens, who has lived in Contra Costa County for 10 years and recently bought a house in Martinez.
"If we market those up and down the (Amtrak) corridor, I think we can get more businesses in the city without generating more traffic and therefore generate more sales tax that could pay for a parking garage."
Stevens hopes to cross-promote activities online with other local chambers of commerce and to expand the King of the County BBQ and Martinis on Main, the chamber's signature events.
More housing in the downtown would lead to more foot traffic and in turn lure businesses, he said. To draw residents from other parts of Martinez and visitors from neighboring cities downtown in the evening, Stevens would like to see more upscale restaurants and live entertainment venues, such as jazz clubs.
He also believes the city needs to offer more than eateries to the county employees and jurors who come to Martinez during the day.
"We have lots of restaurants but there aren't many places to go shop," he said. "We need to look at what don't we have that people want and need."
Stevens has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Arkansas and a master's degree in public administration from Cal State East Bay. He also studied business at the University of Dallas Graduate School of Management.
With help of a consultant, the chamber board selected Stevens from a pool of nearly 100 applicants. Dwayne Glemser, board chairman, praised Stevens's business and nonprofit experience, communication skills and outsider's perspective.
Recently, the City Council has been discussing strategies to increase parking downtown, including the possibility of building a garage, which Glemser believes the council should find a way to do.
"We're at a point where the city of Martinez needs to attract more people. There are situations where we have limited parking in Martinez which limits our business opportunities," Glemser said. "John has the ability, the education, the time spent to help bring that together."