The opening of Expo on May 20 is frequently framed as a transit event; however, a growing movement exists to expand the expectations for Expo from merely a transit solution to a tool for economic development.
Multiple agencies and organizations are working on plans to utilize Expo as the backbone of regional economic programs including tourism groups, government coalitions and private advocacy groups.
Discover Los Angeles is a private, non-profit business association that markets and promotes destinations within the greater Los Angeles region. The organization has refined its “Car Free” guides for destinations along the Expo route to facilitate train riders.
“The Metro Expo Line extension marks a significant moment in L.A. County’s transit revolution, making it easier and more convenient to see all that L.A. has to offer,” said Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of Discover Los Angeles. “For the first time in 63 years, residents and visitors will be able to travel between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica aboard a railway. The 6.6 mile, $1.5-billion extension project is proof that our city is committed to changing perceptions of our car-centric roots, while programs like carfreeL.A. enhance the Los Angeles visitor experience without relying on a car.”
While tourism agencies are looking at the potential to move visitors, others are hoping to build an economic base out of locals.
Woodie Hamilton is one of the founders of the Tri-City Alliance, a privately funded advocacy organization that is promoting economic development partnerships along the Expo route.
“We’re a business advocacy organization that’s starting the conversation and thinking outside the box in regards to how cities function and partner with other cities,” he said. “We’re pushing for solutions that can grow out of Expo and take Expo in a way that Metro hasn’t thought about.”
He wants his organization to become an umbrella for multiple business improvement districts and chambers of commerce to meet and discuss common goals.
“We want to create some best practices for how Expo, or any mass transit line, can be activated efficiently if organizations come together to talk about that connection,” he said.
He said he has spoken to more than 600 businesses that want to find ways to capitalize on Expo.
“They understand the ability to have an influx of people that could come to their storefront or their region and spend some money when they’re there for a day or a vacation or whatever it is,” he said.
Hamilton said his organization has plans for public events that will showcase how a coordinated approach to planning can benefit everyone along the line.
Tri-City is planning several events to showcase the integration possibilities provided by Expo.
Their first is a bar crawl, LA Crawl, that utilizes an online platform to create an itinerary specific to each user with the goal of forcing participants to move away from their home turf and into the surrounding areas.
Hamilton said the first crawl will serve as a social interaction platform that provides locals with a reason to leave their city and hopefully begins to build an awareness of the greater economic opportunities in the tri-city area. In this case, Expo enables a more social experience by allowing people to travel together in a safe environment.
“The event is about showing the region it can be done, they can collaborate and share economic dollars if their leaders are participating.”
He said proceeds from the event will support homeless shelters, missions and resource centers in the area.
Jennifer Taylor, Economic Development administrator with the City of Santa Monica and the Buy Local SM Committee Chair said she hopes the ease of use will expand the potential customer base for local businesses.
“I really see that for our arts and cultural related offerings, like theaters and non-profits, it’s going to open up a whole new customer base for them and they won’t have to just rely on the immediate locals and tourists that come here,” she said.
She said Buy Local is supporting the LA Crawl and hopes that the concept will grow and expand.
“I think there’s some really potentially great opportunities for doing art trails by Expo with Bergamot [Station]” she said. “There are a new, creative ways to tie them in with the Downtown Los Angeles art walk and Culver City art walk events and galleries that are along the Expo line.
“That will create some interesting new opportunities that we haven’t had before and help allow residents to explore the Santa Monica region without having to rely on a car which is always good.”
For more information visit www.discoverlosangeles.com/CarFreeLA; www.discoverlosangeles.com/blog/guide-metro-expo-line-downtown-la-santa-monica; and www.lacrawl.org or http://tricityalliance.com.