BUSTLING: Downtown visitors pass by a massive mural on Second Street on Thursday. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)
BUSTLING: Downtown visitors pass by a massive mural on Second Street on Thursday. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

CITYWIDE — Downtown is in good shape.

That’s the message business leaders and city officials wanted to get across Thursday during the annual meeting of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the public-private nonprofit that manages and promotes the bustling district on behalf of City Hall.

Downtown is thriving thanks to a mix of hotels, restaurants and retail that draw both tourists and locals; an active business community that includes technology start ups and high-priced law firms; new housing that has breathed new life into the area; and a plethora of public transit opportunities that help people stay connected without having to jump in their cars.

“One thing we know for certain people like to go to great places,” Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., said. “We are a place to shop, eat, date, work, workout and express ourselves.”

The nonprofit had $2.36 million in net assets for the 2012-13 fiscal year and spent just over $5.3 million.

The majority of revenue, which includes over $5.1 million in assessments charged to property owners in the area, supports the Downtown Santa Monica Ambassador and maintenance programs and the marketing side of the organization, Rawson said. The ambassadors help people locate parking and restrooms, make restaurant recommendations and serve as an extra pair of eyes for law enforcement.

Despite the good news, Rawson said there were some areas that still needed attention.

She said parking availability, homelessness and vehicular access and circulation were three areas everybody continues to talk about. The number of homeless increased by 5 percent in Downtown over the last two years, far from the 16 percent increase in all of Los Angeles County, said City Manager Rod Gould. Downtown Santa Monica Inc. spent $89,566 last year on homeless programs and support, according to the nonprofit’s annual report.

Gould said the sales tax revenue generated in Downtown reached $10 million in 2012, up from $9.6 million in 2011. He said Downtown generates 31 percent of the total sales tax citywide.

“Some people call Third Street Promenade Santa Monica’s living room,” Gould said, who called Downtown the “economic engine” of the city.

Gould said hotels were important for the economy, with the Downtown hotels bringing in $13 million in tax revenue to the city.

“In 2012, the hotel occupancy of 84.3 percent made us tie for first place in the region with the L.A. airport hotels in occupancy and second only to Beverly Hills in average room rates,” Gould said, demonstrating the popularity of Santa Monica as a tourist destination.

He said there were other proposed hotels such as the Hampton Inn and Suites, redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, the Wyndham Hotel and the proposed Frank Gehry-designed hotel on Ocean Avenue.

“I take the risk of saying the understatement of the morning, there is controversy associated with these hotels,” Gould said, referring to some residents who have blasted the hotel proposals for being too large or not providing enough community benefits, aside from tax revenue generated by hotel stays. Gould assured the audience that each hotel project would be vetted.

Officials said transportation will also be a boon for Downtown when the Expo Light Rail comes to town in 2016.

“For the first time in 50 years, Santa Monica will be reconnected to the region through light rail,” Gould said.

He said there is some relief on the way with the re-opening of Parking Structure 6 on Second Street at the end of this year with an additional 350 parking places, for a total of 700.

There are also improvement projects closer to home like the pier reconstruction project, which costs $9 million and began in April, Gould said. The project is expected to conclude next spring.





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