Visitors at Saturday’s Downtown Design Workshop left dots colored green for yes and red for no were on various concepts crafted from interviews with stakeholders and public survey results.

Design Workshop draws dozens interested in future of Downtown

March 01, 2017
Santa Paula News

Dozens of people visited City Hall Saturday where paintings were replaced by about two-dozen oversized sheets, each one showcasing an improvement for the historic Downtown — each sporting red and green dots — or seeking input. 

The February 25 workshop was just the latest step in defining what people want in the Downtown, ranging from brick and mortar such as parking structures and an event center to green — as in cash generated by a Business Improvement District for maintenance and marketing.

Santa Paula High School Key Club members were on hand helping greet the almost 50 visitors who signed in and handing out the red and green dots signifying “votes” for each of the 21 concepts resulting from interviews with stakeholders and a public survey. The Key Club members were also bilingual and ready to answer questions from Spanish-speaking visitors. 

Some concept pages showed a sea of green, while others were an even mix of green and red — yes and no — votes. A few were completely skipped over. Results even changed from a majority of red to more green when a concept of a mixed-use commercial and parking structure — parking starting on the second floor — was labeled “Not a high rise! 2 floors max!” 

Saturday’s workshop was just the latest of a years’ long effort to tackle the Downtown, famed for appearing as a backdrop for numerous movies, television shows and commercials. 

In 2011, the Downtown was the focus of a San Luis Obispo Cal Poly student Design Team who spent months visiting the city and garnering input on the Downtown. In 2012 they presented the results of their survey and recommendations for the future.

Several people that visited Saturday questioned the number of studies done on the Downtown while others, such as Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi, noted public input is valuable. 

“I think it’s useful to get commens,” said Gherardi, but she questioned the lack of certain aspects centered on economics, such as how to encourage boutiques and reopening the Tower Theater as a  art film house.

“We have to develop a niche,” she noted, to draw residents and visitors alike to the Downtown. 

Laura Hernandez of Port Hueneme, a Santa Paula native and frequent visitor, agreed. 

She questioned whether the workshop should have included mention of the Mural Project, 10 art pieces by noted artists throughout the city highlighting history and culture, and the possible impacts on tourism if the project was expanded. 

Hernandez said specifics folded into the concepts would have been helpful, such as detouring the bike trails into the Downtown. 

One concept centered on signage and Hernandez voted yes with a green dot: “I’m really in favor of that.”

Hernandez and Gherardi both questioned billing the event as a workshop, but both said they were pleased with the foot traffic. 

“There’s been a steady stream of people in and out, that’s good!” said Hernandez.

Concepts ranged from Downtown Intensification — jobs and housing growth — to the preservation of historic buildings or helping the Downtown become a cultural and civic community core with amenities. Creating mixed use — shopping and housing — on city owned parking lots and encouraging more pedestrians to the Downtown were also options. The latter display, as well as comments from visitors, noted that cleanliness is already an issue.

Consultant Mark Brodeur, who is overseeing the Downtown project, noted that, such as the case of the mixed-use commercial parking structure, “Sometimes the illustration has a lot to do with,” how a concept is perceived rather than the written description.

Vivian Mullet was enjoying the exercise: “I think it’s great, find it very interesting,” she said as she passed the concepts including banding together all Downtown businesses under one umbrella to implementing new ideas that youth would find “cool” for activities and amenities in the Downtown. 

Another concept addressed celebrating the buildings in the Downtown by dressing them with plaques noting their history and even sidewalk signage to note events and personalities important to the city.

One winner was improving the maintenance and lighting of the back alleys which garnered many green dots; embracing ethnic differences and implementing a program to protect unique businesses from outside competition was also noted. Cleaning up the Downtown by checking and updating zoning for users could keep out fast food and other tenants that would diminish its uniqueness.

At the end of the concept trail participants were asked to write down their ideas and comments and Carol Beckerdite was busy suggesting businesses — from antique malls to tearooms — that would benefit the Downtown as well as urging the city to find a way to regain and reopen the Tower Theater as an art film house. Chuck Mullet wrote that he would like to see the façade of the theater be cleaned up and the marquee paid attention to.

The Downtown mostly wood buildings were burned to the ground in the early days of the last century and by 1905 rebuilt better than before. The bustling business district started to wane in the 1950s when the oil industry left the area; also contributing to its decline was changing shopping habits as outlets for major department stores closed and consumers were drawn to malls. Economic downturns also hit the Downtown, home to Mom and Pop businesses, hard.

The Santa Paula Downtown Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce have been holding talks with the city for quite a while centered on code enforcement, cleanliness and vandalism.

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