I have been on Main Street for close to a decade. First as a business operator, then an MSBIA board member, now as its Executive Director. During that time, I have worked closely with City staff and the residents association (OPA) on a variety of projects conceived of, designed, and executed with one goal in mind: to make Main Street and Ocean Park the best version of itself possible.
We’ve been very successful, and our track record speaks for itself. For several years we’ve collaborated on MAINopoly, Summer Soulstice, Howl-O-Ween, and the annual Holiday event with our world-famous shopping cart tree. We are also currently launching version 2.0 of our Main Street Rewards program, which directly benefits OPA residents.
We doubled down on our partnership in 2020 which is how we were able to bring Main Street Al Fresco to life so fast last June and also how we put local artists to work painting gorgeous murals on the concrete barriers with Beautify Earth. We are in the process of launching the first ever ‘Zero Emissions Delivery Zone’ in the United States alongside LACI.
The consensus on al fresco so far is that it is a smash hit, with a 90% approval rating by the City’s own data.
Our newest pilot program proposal before City Council on June 8th continues this progress. We have been advocating for the next iteration of al fresco dining and more pedestrian/cyclist friendly streets since the summer of 2020 (long before that even) when we realized the limits of our current al fresco set up, as great as it is. Merchants and pedestrians simply need more space.
Puzzlingly, a small but overly vocal super-minority of residents and shop owners who claim to speak for far more individuals than they actually do have surfaced repeatedly over the past few months to decry this plan. Selfishly, they have knowingly misrepresented the facts over and over, with all of the fear-mongering, wild speculation, lies, and petty personal attacks you would expect to see in a Christopher Guest film.
Does anyone really believe that the Merchants Association, and the Residents Association, in collaboration with City Staff would pursue a plan that would damage the fabric of the neighborhood and hurt businesses? Come on. Yet that’s exactly what this small, but overly vocal band of naysayers would have you believe. Don’t fall for it. We’re talking about one weekend a month for the next 3-4 months. The City will be collecting data before, during, and after each weekend, and we will be adjusting accordingly. Its’ a ‘Pilot Program’. A test! The whole point is to see what works, and what doesn’t.
MSBIA and OPA aren’t just piloting a street closure though. We are piloting a new, better, and more efficient way of managing commercial/residential neighborhoods where merchants and residents collaborate and iterate together instead of bicker and feud. Again, our record speaks for itself. All of our events and collaborations have been grand slams in the eyes of customers, tourists, locals, and the City.
We’ve repeatedly reached out to all businesses and residents within our sphere of influence, listened to their concerns and adjusted this pilot accordingly, which we do with everything else too. We spent a considerable amount of money to reshuffle many concrete barriers for a third time to give back some parking spaces in key areas, and directional signage will also be posted for this pilot, keeping errant automobiles away from wandering into residential pockets. Noise will NOT increase as a result of this activation either. Think “European Plaza”, NOT “Bourbon Street”.
It seems some of these regressive personalities believe merchants and residents should be at odds instead of work creatively together. Why is that? After all, we all want the same thing: a healthy, vibrant, safe neighborhood.
Yes, Covid restrictions are due to be lifted on June 15, but businesses still need a massive injection of cash, opportunity, and stability to survive and thrive. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never run a business, or hasn’t been economically affected by Covid. Many of these shops and restaurants have taken on massive debt and haven’t gotten much in the way of federal aid either.
MSBIA is a formally structured organization that is over 22 years old, as is OPA. We have both always invited participation, and welcomed healthy discussion and dissent. Yet none of these dissenters and fear-mongers participate. Why is that? It’s because they don’t know how to participate in a constructive manner and that they are greatly outnumbered. So, they resort to making things up, slipping fear-mongering notes under people’s doors in the wee hours of the morning, and forming ad hoc, anonymous neighborhood groups that purport to represent a greater constituency than The Ocean Park Association or MSBIA. Again, don’t fall for it.
We (OPA & MSBIA) have found a better way for residents and businesses to work with The City that saves money, time, and headache. We’ve essentially settled on a process where we work out the details amongst ourselves in an open and collaborative environment and then approach The City with a proposal, which makes everything easier, cheaper, and more pleasant.
Hopefully, informed citizens, businesses and city council will see this pilot for what it is: the next logical step towards a greener, more pedestrian and cyclist centric business district with a healthy and thriving climate for everyone.
Hunter G. Hall is the Executive Director, Main Street Business Improvement Association