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Downtown Santa Monica Mixes Humor and Big Numbers at Annual Meeting
By Melonie Magruder
August 17, 2012 -- At Downtown Santa Monica, Inc’s annual meeting Thursday, City Manager Rod Gould and DTSM CEO Kathleen Rawson laid out plenty of reasons why the city was named by Forbes Magazine this year as having one of “America’s Best Downtowns.”
Driving the city’s continuing recovery from the 2007-2008 recession were retail sales of nearly one billion dollars – an economic indicator that has been steadily improving each year, officials said.
With a theme of “Envision… Evolve… Eclipse” as the centerpiece of the presentation held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, DTSM offered a Year in Review and a vision going forward.
As part of its creative approach to what some could normally see as a dry rundown of facts and figures, DTSM started off with an improv team from Westside Comedy Theatre.
Mike Betette and Sean Monahan encouraged Gould and new Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks to riff on quality-of-life features Santa Monica offers, like… (audience-supplied subject) pole dancing. Gould and Seabrooks gamely supplied hilariously appropriate details.
DTSM Chair, Johannes Van Tilburg, showed photos of the city dating from 1930, giving visual context to Santa Monica’s “adaptive preservation and reuse” successes.
“Ours is one of the most successful revitalization efforts in the country,” Van Tilburg said. “Why are we so successful where other cities have failed? Maybe it’s our staff.”
Humor aside, Van Tilburg emphasized that Downtown Santa Monica is not a “shopping center,” but a public place.
DTSM’s work to keep pubic venues clean, safe and welcoming, he said, has helped give it a character that has only encouraged increasing numbers of visitors, business activity and sky-high occupancy rates.
“Santa Monica is where you can find surfers, tourists, lawyers, celebrities, the homeless and septuagenarian crime bosses on one street,” Mayor Richard Bloom said, refering to the infamous local capture of mobster Whitey Bulger.
“But the strength of our economic condition is our resiliency. The tourist industry took a beating in 2007 and 2008. But they’ve returned to Santa Monica faster than anywhere else in California.”
Gould cited ongoing civic investments, such as hotel projects that include the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar, the adaptive reuse and expansion of 710 Wilshire and two proposed projects at 5th Street and Colorado Avenue as evidence of the city’s expanding economy.
But maintaining economic health will be dependent on significant future efforts, and the city is stepping up with investment in light rail and expanded parking, Gould said.
"The new parking structure on 2nd Street will have 745 parking places and significant green features, along with public art,” he said.
The City, along with DTSM, also is working to manage congestion, expand Downtown employee parking and replace the California Incline from Ocean Avenue to Pacific Coast Highway.
This last item elicited groans from the audience, but Gould assured them that contractors were planning two shifts a day to shorten construction time from 18 months to 12.
“It’s a major challenge, but essential,” Gould said.
He also touted the upcoming Palisades Garden Walk, the six-acre park across from City Hall set to open in 2013, as one of “the best urban parks in America.”
The new AMC Cineplex and a large public space for a mixed-use project at 4th and Arizona were held as examples of future planning, as well as new affordable housing at The Village at Santa Monica.
“Imagine affordable housing two blocks from the beach!” Gould said. “In the future, people will look back and see this period of change as a great leap forward.”
Rawson rolled out positive numbers that she said reflected a DTSM budget increase from a little more than $1 million in 2008 to more than $6 million last year, from property owners investing in Downtown.
“The Ambassador Program, maintenance and marketing make up the biggest part of our budget,” Rawson said of DTSM’s goals to help Santa Monica businesses achieve higher profiles and sales numbers.
“And we are now seeing citywide payrolls amounting to $472 million each quarter,” Rawson added
Apparently, Downtown businesses liked what they saw this year.
Stakeholders agreed by 38 to 47 percent that DTSM services like graffiti and litter removal, and Ambassador Program efforts with directions, brochures and visibility were “very good.”
Ratings of overall cleanliness, image and appearance were rated “very good” by as many as 46 percent. Mystery shopper ratings were almost uniformly over 90 percent.
Rawson cited DTSM-sponsored events like Cinema on the Street, ICE and the Buy Local Arts & Crafts Event as examples of their objective to organize events and promotions that attract locals and visitors to Downtown, while reinforcing the district’s brand and authenticity.
Finally, Rawson handed out some new DTSM awards in recognition of those civic leaders who exemplify the vibrancy and community spirit essential to ongoing prosperity in the city.
Lynne Thomas of The Lobster restaurant was given the Essence Award, Chamber of Commerce CEO Laurel Rosen received the Envision Award, and the Evolve Award was given to Tesla Motors for their “innovative sustainable culture.”
The Eclipse Awards went to those businesses, Rawson said, “who lend a hand and support our community in thousands of ways:” Those awarded were Hanna Hartnell Studio, Locanda del Lago and Wally N. Marks, whose family was instrumental in developing the Third Street Promenade.
In closing, Rawson said, “This downtown was created with the input of thousands of voices. To keep improving, we need all of yours.”
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