COMING SOON: A recent survey found that Downtown's economy is booming. Housing, like this development at Arizona Avenue and Seventh Street, was cited as leading the way. (Daniel Archuleta
COMING SOON: A recent survey found that Downtown’s economy is booming. Housing, like this development at Arizona Avenue and Seventh Street, was cited as leading the way. (Daniel Archuleta

DOWNTOWN — Downtown continues to thrive, according to a recent report from the public-private nonprofit charged with its upkeep and promotion.

Former Mayor Judy Abdo can remember when the area wasn’t such a people magnet.

“It was kind of a scary place at night,” she said. “In the daytime there weren’t that many people who worked there so it was empty.”

Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.’s bi-annual survey shows how far Downtown has come since Abdo’s first memories of the place.

In the past decade, the number of residents in the area has more than tripled. More than 3,000 people live Downtown with multiple new housing projects in the works.

Of the 66 office buildings Downtown, 43 are completely leased — a return to pre-recession levels, Downtown officials said.

Nearly three-quarters of the Santa Monica residents surveyed had visited Downtown in the past month. They averaged more than eight trips to the area during that time, spending an average of $44 with each visit.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane is given much of the credit for planning the revitalization of the area. He was inspired by the Grande Allee in Quebec City, Canada when he brought community-first plans before council that stressed outdoor dining and theaters.

“I think one of the root insights was a feeling that there had to be better ways to do economic development than to tear it all down and build a shopping center,” he said.

Rather than add retail that couldn’t compete with the Santa Monica Mall, they focused on uses that would add foot traffic by the young, old, poor, and wealthy, he said.

Today, more than 20 percent of those surveyed list dining as their primary reason for heading Downtown.

Boosting the residences, he said, also had a big impact.

“They wander and walk in the area,” he said. “That makes it feel like real life, not just a shopping district.”

Nearly 60 percent of those visiting the area said they do so because they live nearby.

Even the office spaces enlivened the area, Abdo said.

“Offices were built, which brought people there during the day, and that brought restaurants, and that brought more people,” she said. “Then the theaters brought people there during the nighttime.”

The current theater situation is problematic, she said. The closing of the Criterion left a big hole on the Third Street Promenade and the AMC 7 needs to be renovated, she said.

Zane likes the idea of a theater on the third level of the Santa Monica Place mall but the current proposal is too big, he said. ArcLight has plans for 14 screens with stadium seating and the latest amenities, which include a bar, cafe and lounge.

“If you spread the theaters out across the promenade it creates foot traffic,” he said.

DTSM President and CEO Kathleen Rawson said that the survey results are good news.

“Our research shows that they are enjoying their experience — so much so, that three out of four respondents said they wouldn’t change anything about their experience in Downtown,” she said.

More than half of those surveyed said the biggest improvement in recent years was the cleanliness of the streets. Another 22 percent noticed the variety of retail.

Only one in 10 locals are walking, biking, or using mass transit to get Downtown but four in 10 employees are taking the bus, walking, carpooling, biking, or riding a motorcycle.

“Before the promenade was a clear success, L.A. didn’t really have any outdoor dining and there weren’t spaces anywhere like the promenade,” Zane said. “Now, lots of cities have looked at our plans and picking up on the revitalization from within. It’s all for the better.”

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