A 2 1/2-block, $302,000 promenade extension will be completed within four months and connect the site to a winery that opened in January behind the $2-million neoclassical City Hall and Central Park, occupied by city staff the same month.
The winery, opened with the aid of a $100,000 low-interest municipal loan, has not provided the spark to persuade visitors to extend their visits that officials had hoped.
"I thought the winery was going to be a catalyst," McSweeney said. "Right now there isn't anything to connect the dots, and the city of Fillmore can't do it all. . . . We have a lot of individual success stories; it's just collectively we don't."
In Fillmore, success is measured in every new small business that opens its door.
The city's first bed and breakfast opened last December in a historical landmark known as the Artists' Barn. Catering largely to people taking the excursion train, its two rooms are fully booked through year's end, said co-owner Max Gabaldon.
A meticulously painted cigar shop, indicative of the kind of investment Fillmore officials want, opened in May on Central Avenue.
"Fillmore is a very hard town to make money in," said Christopher Charles, a gaffer in the movie industry who opened the store with his fiancee. "It pays enough to pay for its rent, pay for its insurance and pay for a nice dinner. . . . This is something we did to add to the city because I love the city."
Four new antiques and collectibles businesses opened July 4 in a trio of antique rail cars adjacent to City Hall. The cabooses are designed as a business incubator, and the stores are expected to move out in two years, once they have become established, to make room for others.
In May, chamber President Janet Foy converted the Central Avenue western-wear store she and her husband own into a mini antique-and-crafters mall. Of the 20 spaces she had to rent out, only three remain.
Indeed, aside from those tiny spaces, no store space is available at all in the city's modest block-long retail core.
That has prompted Ventura consultant Stanley Hopkins to plan a building with 16,000 square feet of retail and office space on a vacant Central Avenue lot. The structure will boast 10 small stores, including a restaurant, a pedestrian walkway and small courtyard, complete with fountain.
Negotiations are underway with several tenants, and construction could begin within six months, Hopkins said.
"Development is still a little risky here, but someone has to take the first step," he said. "They need all kinds of services here, so there's plenty of room for new development without taking away from other people's businesses."
A similar-size building, dubbed the Grand Central Market, is also planned across the railroad tracks opposite City Hall.
The project is planned by two companies experienced in redevelopment: KL Associates, which has been instrumental in creating Oxnard's Heritage Square, and Main Street Collaborative, an offshoot of the firm that has designed revitalization projects countywide.
"We may be a year ahead of ourselves in terms of the timing for our Grand Central Market," concedes developer Doug Nelson. "We're having to be very realistic about the Monday-through-Friday tourist traffic. [Fillmore] is just like anything else that's in the incubation stage--it needs more of a critical mass of activity."
That activity is not there, yet.
But one at a time, the pieces are beginning to fall into place, officials insist.
A group calling itself Fillmore Now has plans to increase tourism marketing efforts. A similar committee has formed to do the same for the entire region in a concept called the Heritage Valley.
And Santa Paula, at the other end of the train's route, has embarked upon a multimillion-dollar downtown revitalization project it's hoped will help attract tourists in concert with Fillmore.
"Just because we have a train, winery and museum, you can't just sit back and say 'OK, let the tourists come,' " Payne said. "I guess I'd have to characterize our economic development efforts at this stage as being in the investigation and recovery stage. We don't know a lot about tourism. We're learning as we go."
About This Series
"Heart of the City: The Rebirth of Downtown" is an occasional series describing the efforts to revitalize the downtown shopping districts in Ventura County's 10 cities. Today's installment focuses on the move to revive Fillmore's retail core. Future stories will focus on renovation plans in other communities.