DOWNTOWN — Jonathan Dahms stumbled into living here four months ago. He knew nothing about the area, other than it was near Venice Beach.

He now knows Downtown Santa Monica, with its popular restaurants and retail and its proximity to Palisades Park and the boardwalk, is the perfect place for him to live because he enjoys “the vibe that it has.”

“It’s really relaxing, not really crazy because everybody is calm and relaxed,” he said.

But had more information been available about Downtown Santa Monica as a residential area, Dahms said he could have made a more informed decision about whether to move here.

The Bayside District Corp.’s rebranding initiative could help potential residents like Dhams, who may think of Downtown as simply a shopping and entertainment district comprised solely of the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place mall.

Bayside, the private-public company that manages Downtown for City Hall, is in the process of rebranding the area to align public perception of Downtown with its reality, to promote areas outside of the promenade and to clarify the mission of the corporation. This comes more than a year after Downtown property owners voted in favor of taxing themselves at a higher rate to pay for added services, ensuring Downtown can remain competitive with other popular retail/entertainment destinations in the region.

Bayside District officials just finished the research phase of the branding process, finding the public sees Downtown as a commercial area comprising solely or mainly of the promenade. The next step is to come up with a new identity for Downtown, which will be followed by creating a physical representation of that identity to be placed throughout the area, such as a new logo, said Debbie Lee, the director of marketing and communications for Bayside who is overseeing the project.

“From the public perception, the Third Street Promenade is the most well know area, but they don’t link it to the rest of Bayside,” Lee said.

The Bayside District stretches from Wilshire Boulevard to Broadway, and from Second Street to Fourth Street. The Central Business District is a larger area defined by Wilshire Boulevard, Colorado and Ocean avenues and Seventh Street. Within those blocks is an emerging residential community and a solid collection of businesses that range from financial institutions to Internet start-ups and film companies.

National consultant and branding firm Shook Kelley has been hired to help Bayside with its rebranding project. The initial research phase cost $60,000, and the identity phase is estimated to cost $40,000, prices which Lee said are reasonable. Money was never an issue as the corporation allotted it in their marketing budget for the 2010 fiscal year, she said.

During the research phase, the corporation discovered Downtown has multiple identities among the public, Lee said. During the next phase of the project, Bayside will review each existing identity and decide which to use or create a new one that combines public perception with what it hopes to be. The corporation would like to release a report on the new identity by August, Lee said.

The new identity will work to incorporate all aspects of Downtown and to highlight features outside of the shopping areas, such as residential living, Lee said.

Bayside could face difficulties in crafting an identity that aligns with the public perception, though, said Kathleen Rawson, the executive director of Bayside. Both Bayside and the public need to understand Downtown is a public area and so will never be as controlled, clean or safe as a private area, like the Grove, she said.

“It’s instinctual that we want to be like the Grove. And we all know we’re not privately run like them, but for someone to actually say that we’re not a manufactured area is an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Rawson said. “We need to compare ourselves to public areas like Old Town Pasadena or SoHo.”

But the project goes beyond image, said John Warfel, a member of the Bayside Board of Directors and a real estate broker with Pacific Metropolitan, which is located on the promenade and is working with AMC Theaters to build a new, state-of-the-art theater on Fourth Street. The research will help Bayside determine its role in the area and craft a plan to manage and address issues that will be identified during the branding process.

“Bayside itself is a misnomer because no one quite knows what our mission is,” he said.

Last year’s changes to Bayside’s funding and the appointment of a new Board of Directors necessitated the reevaluation, Warfel said. The City Council has the power to appoint half of the members of the Bayside board while property owners appoint the other half. Bayside is jointly funded by business owners and City Hall.

Another issue the research found was the boundaries of Downtown are unclear to some, Lee said. This issue will be addressed in the future phase of creating physical identifiers of the area, such as placing logos or signs around downtown.

Once the corporation makes a decision as to what physical changes it wants to make, it will have to work with City Hall to execute them, said Gleam Davis, the City Council liaison to Bayside.

“I don’t anticipate any issues between the city and Bayside,” Davis said. “It depends on what they’re asking for, but we recognize the value of Bayside.”

Lee said now is the perfect time to pursue the branding initiative because it follows city projects meant to improve the area, such as bringing the Metro Light Rail Expo route to Downtown and redeveloping parking structures.

Barbara Bryan, the owner of Interactive Cafe on Broadway who is on the Bayside Board of Directors, agreed with Lee, saying the rebranding has been a long-time coming.

The rebranding will benefit area business owners, as well as Santa Monica as a whole, Bryan said. It forces people to look at what direction they want to head in for the next 10 to 20 years and allows the area to reinvent itself, she said.

This reinvention will be just the most recent in an evolution spanning years, said Bob Holbrook, a city councilman since 1990.

Where Downtown used to be primarily a quiet, small business area, it has become an entertainment destination for millions each weekend, Holbrook said. On any given night, Holbrook said he can people watch and see parents with their babies in strollers out at 10 p.m., something he as a parent is surprised at.

Now that City Hall and business owners have invested in the area, it is time to encourage people to live Downtown, he said.

“Where do we want to be in 10, 20 years down the line,” he said. “If they want to be an oasis in a metropolitan area, they’re going in the right direction.”

Tourists also said they believe they will benefit from the rebranding. Clive William, a tourist from Wales, said he thinks his and other potential tourists’ travels would be easier if more information was available about areas other than the promenade.

“I think they could do with telling the outside world a little bit about Downtown Santa Monica,” William said, “because not a lot of people realize it’s here.”

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