DOWNTOWN — Downtown continues to bring in the bacon and happy customers both from within Santa Monica and from without, a study found.

The study, compiled by CIC Research out of San Diego, showed that visitors to Downtown are spending at consistent levels and liked the mix of stores, improvements at the Santa Monica Place mall and street entertainment.

They continued to have problems with parking, traffic and circulation.

Frequent visitors also said that they had noticed improvements in the cleanliness of the area, and concerns about homeless people dropped to the lowest level since 2003.

Visitors gave high marks to the Ambassador program, which puts employees on the Third Street Promenade and Downtown streets to guide visitors.

The study reinforced priorities in maintaining and improving the services provided in the district, said Kathleen Rawson, CEO for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the public-private organization that manages the shopping district for City Hall.

“We’ve maintained our market share. Businesses are doing well, a number of people are coming to the Downtown and shopping and spending has maintained consistency over the last several years.”

The study consisted of 410 telephone interviews with Santa Monica residents and 421 “intercept” interviews with people in and around the shopping district.

All interviews were conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 5, 2011.

The timing makes an impact, said Pam Jaffee, of CIC Research.

“At different times of year, there are different people visiting from out of town,” Jaffee said. “We have conducted the study at different times of year, but we can’t compare people who come in the summer versus those who come in the winter.”

Telephone respondents, who were all Santa Monica residents, varied from those met on the street in a number of key ways.

Residents reported spending less money than the “intercepts,” an average of $39 in 2011 versus the $86 spent by visitors.

Resident spending also has barely budged since 1997, when the average was reported at $33. Those in Downtown at the time of the survey reported spending only $27 in 1997.

Today’s rate of spending means that residents shell out less in individual trips, but they tend to go more often, Jaffee said.

“They end up spending less per trip, but in the grand scheme of things, they spend a lot more,” Jaffee said. “They’re not on vacation, they’re coming there for their banking and things like that.”

According to the survey, most people met in the district (54.6 percent) came specifically to shop. Hanging out with friends was a distant second at 17.8 percent.

Shopping came first for residents as well, but in smaller percentages, with more reporting dining and errands as their main reason for going to Downtown.

A big hit came in the popularity of the movie theaters, which 30.7 percent of residents reported as the main reason to go to Downtown in 1997 versus only 8.7 percent last year.

Movies also lagged amongst visitors, but dropped only 1.5 percent from 7.6 to 6.1 percent reporting it as the main reason for going out.

Officials hope that the new AMC movie theater slated for Fourth Street will help reinvigorate that area of the market.

“We realize that’s a place we need to do some improvement after 25 years,” Rawson said. “We’ve worked hard for the last five to seven years to get new theaters in Downtown, and we’re just now seeing the fruits of that labor.”

Visitors’ most significant complaint, however, came in terms of parking and circulation.

Parking, traffic and congestion were the three things that residents disliked the most about Downtown Santa Monica, displacing “homeless people” which held the top spot in the 2003 and 2006 surveys.

Those surveyed within the district told researchers that the area was too crowded, and that panhandling and parking were also problems.

Crowding and congestion are a negative symptom of success, Rawson said, and the district is working to mitigate those problems.

“We’re working hard with old agreements, freeing up a number of spaces in public lots allocated for private use,” she said.

They’ve managed to open up several hundred spaces in Downtown that way, Rawson said.

Studies like the one put together by CIC Research help Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. remain an effective advocate for the area, Rawson said.

“It does codify what we’re doing in terms of going in the right direction,” she said. “It affirms that parking, traffic and circulation are issues, and affirms the Ambassador program is having an impact on antisocial behavior. It was nice to get the affirming message.”

ashley@smdp.com

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