City staff and advisers plan to improve downtown Santa Monica’s image in a continued economic downturn, while businesses are still calculating how to lure customers during the crucial holiday season.
The downtown management company Bayside District unveiled a ten-year plan to enhance the downtown Santa Monica identity. Its board members met with consultants and staff in August to discuss everything from small details, such as street furniture, and long-term goals to improve the downtown image. Think of brand strategies for city blocks.
Bayside works with a $5.5 million annual budget to increase visitation to the downtown area stretching from Wilshire Boulevard down the Third Street Promenade and linking Ocean Avenue to 7th Street. The company advises City staff on long-term planning while working everyday with operations and with businesses.
One of the biggest issues Bayside has to confront is parking. Downtown Santa Monica may have some 12-million visitors a year, who bring along with them up $470 million in sales, according to Bayside estimates. Tens of thousands of business professionals frequent downtown each day with more than 60 stores and 25 restaurants and coffeehouses on the Promenade alone vying for customers.
An upcoming AMC theater project expected to demolish Parking Structure 3, resulting in 324 lost parking spaces downtown, making alternative transportation issues are a major topic. City planners anticipate renovating Parking Structure 6 during the theater construction resulting in 681 fewer spots during construction. After growing pains are completed, downtown ends up with 29 additional spaces.
The looming promise of the Expo Line Rail extension to the sea is not projected to relieve traffic woes anytime before 2036. Bayside is focused on creating a “healthy balance” between parking and reduce vehicle traffic.
“It’s really about looking at issues of accessing transportation,” said Robert O. York, a consultant to the Bayside District, in a company newsletter. “It’s not just about cars, it’s about how to expand the pedestrian orientation, how to work with the light rail, bike lanes, public transit.
Improving access, circulation, and parking are always major goals. Other key issues include making capital improvements districtwide, managing major development, and creating a new brand image.
Updating streetlights, improving curbsides, and replacing or removing dilapidated newsstands are just a few ideas to improve the look of areas, such as the Third Street Promenade. News racks on the transit mall, which runs along the east and west streets from Wilshire Boulevard to Colorado Avenue, need to be either replaced or removed, Bayside officials said. Even the alleyways are a concern as one of the first and last stretches visitors see.
“The infrastructure of Downtown is dated,” said Andrew Thomas, Director of Operations for Bayside District. “It’s from the original build-out. We need to have a uniform look in the District.”
The group strives to make the overall brand of downtown consistent and inviting to make the area a destination for years to come. Bayside expects to complete the identity process this year and launch a new website for downtownsm.com in early 2011.
Bayside hired Shook Kelley, a nationally renowned marketing firm that specializes in place brands, who has been looking over demographic data and user surveys, conducting street interviews, and meeting with downtown stakeholders as part of the brand development process.
“Our primary objective of the branding process is to maximize brand equity,” said Debbie Lee, the Bayside’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s time that we embrace our image and steer the direction of Downtown Santa Monica’s future.”
Bayside is still planning for the effect of two mayor construction projects, both originally built in the 1930s, that are slated to hit Ocean Avenue due to necessary structural improvements. Work on the California incline could begin in early 2012 and traffic will need to be rerouted during the work, City officials said. The bridge connecting Colorado Avenue to the Pier Ramp has not been funded and won’t be completed for at least another five years.