On June 28, the World Business Academy’s Global Citizens Club hosted its second panel discussion on reimagining State Street and Downtown Santa Barbara, yielding some very good news: the World Business Academy announced that Amy Cooper, owner of the Plum Goods store on State Street, will head a new Santa Barbara Retail Task Force to help lead the revitalization effort. The Academy remains dedicated to giving leadership and help with this effort. It is our hope and goal that the community engages with this issue, and that all members of the community work to be a part of the solution.
Our latest meeting at the Belmond El Encanto resort, which was attended by over 100 people and covered heavily in the local media, was the second time in recent months that we have gathered retail representatives, thought leaders, and city development experts to discuss how to stop State Street from dying on the vine.
No one in Santa Barbara can deny that something has to be done to breathe new life into the retail sector in Santa Barbara and particularly State Street. The State Street retail community has been hammered by recent local natural disasters, compounding the impact of e-commerce, neighborhood vacancies, difficult local regulations, aggressive panhandlers and high rents.
We are holding these meetings to give our community a vision and pathway for the Santa Barbara of tomorrow and to inspire citizens to participate in the shaping of their city and home. Our June 28 meeting was a follow-up to the World Business Academy’s Global Citizens Club meeting held on March 21, entitled, “Reviving Retail in Santa Barbara,” which started this important, ongoing conversation about revitalizing State Street and the Downtown retail picture, and making a visit to State Street an “experience.”
At the recent meeting, the infusion of fresh ideas from Jerry Ogburn, a downtown development advisor for the city of Palm Springs, provided invigorating food for thought. Ogburn shared his experiences in Palm Springs, which has successfully reinvented itself in recent years and is no longer seen as a city just for the elderly (“God’s waiting room”). Ogburn noted that more millennials, new downtown housing, additional street lighting, added outdoor dining, and a vibrant gay community have all given Palm Springs new life; and that these elements would help Santa Barbara’s Downtown, too.
“You need energy,” Ogburn said. “People who live downtown bring energy. Downtown is everyone’s neighborhood.”
One of the main examples Ogburn used to highlight the impact of a high energy downtown was the Palm Springs Village Fest. Palm Springs attracts thousands of locals, millennials, families, and tourists alike with its lively weekly Village Fest held on Thursday nights, where live entertainment, craft booths, shopping and food bring the community to the downtown for a night of fun for everyone. While Santa Barbara has a farmer’s market, expanding the market to include crafts and live entertainment could invite more people into the downtown area, creating a more inviting environment for our community modeled more closely after San Luis Obispo’s and Palm Springs’ markets.
Rinaldo S. Brutoco led the June 28 discussion that also included Amy Cooper; former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin, now president of USA Green Communities; and Ron Fox, a board member for People Assisting the Homeless. Fox rightfully noted that the solution to moving homeless folks off of State Street is finding them somewhere to live, and while that’s difficult, at least the homeless problem Downtown could be mitigated.
If Santa Barbarans want to rescue Downtown from becoming obsolete and help remake the area into a destination where locals and tourists flock, then we all have to join the effort. Read our blog and watch for our updates in the local media as this effort and the workings of the new task force move forward. We hope everyone in the community pays attention and joins this important effort to make our city a vibrant destination that everyone can enjoy.