SUISIN CITY — Doris “Babs” Curless was a pioneer for downtown Suisun City.
Without her, the waterfront redevelopment project and Main Street as it looks now may never have happened, said longtime friend and former Suisun City Mayor Jim Spering.
Curless, former owner of Babs Delta Diner, was the first business owner to move to the waterfront when the city started to redevelop the area in the early 1990s. She died Sunday at the age of 81.
“She was one of the very first people we talked to about the concept of having the business downstairs and then you live upstairs,” Spering, a current Solano County supervisor, said.
He said Curless was concerned about the cost and the scale of the project.
She nearly backed out, but with reassurance from Spering, the city and the redevelopment agency, “She says, ‘I’m gonna go with this thing,’ ” Spering said.
The thriving waterfront that visitors now see in downtown Suisun City is largely because of the risks Curless took more than 20 years ago, Spering said.
“It became a destination,” Spering said.
Spering said Babs Delta Diner was iconic for the waterfront. He said he attributes the success of the waterfront to her for “leading the development . . .”
After Curless’ success in relocating her diner from a side street off Main Street, Spering said the city was able to point to her to show potential newcomers to the waterfront what they might be able to expect.
“People saw that and took it off,” Spering said. “She was such a great ambassador for downtown Suisun. You couldn’t pay somebody to do what she did for the area.”
Curless and her diner were featured in a PBS special on places coming back from the brink.
“People said, ‘If you go to Suisun, you have to try this place,’ ” Spering said. “She was ‘this place.’ She was just a real down-to-earth person.”
After the new diner opened, Spering said the city always brought potential newcomers to Babs Delta Diner for meetings.
“She always told (her) story when meeting with people,” he said. “She was an absolutely wonderful person.”
Curless and the city came together at the right time.
“We needed a success and she brought it to us,” Spering said. “She was a very close friend and I’ve always appreciated what she did for the city.”
A memorial for Curless is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at the waterfront.
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.