Downtown Long Beach Associates Releases Its 2012 Economic Profile, But There Are ‘Omissions’
By Jack Humphrey - Contributing Writer
May 22, 2012 – (Note: Jack Humphrey, who owns Diversa Consulting in Long Beach and is recognized as one of the top demographers in the state, is a former advance planning officer for the City of Long Beach, working in that capacity from 1992 to 2002. He was the city’s go-to guy for Census data and the interpretation of that data. He is also part of the Re-Thinking Long Beach team that was featured in the last issue of the Business Journal. We asked Humphrey to attend the recent meeting unveiling the Downtown Long Beach 2012 Economic Profile presented by the Downtown Long Beach Associates, and to share his thoughts with our readers.)
Twenty years ago, new residents of Long Beach’s east side would likely have neighbors advising them to avoid downtown because, they insisted, it was a pathetic collection of sailor bars, tattoo parlors and adult theaters. This was patently false, of course, but this misconception illustrates how poor communications can seriously hinder efforts to revitalize a city’s core. In fact, City Hall, in cooperation with the private sector, was devoting considerable effort and funds toward once again making the downtown an attractive and vibrant destination.
Their results were impressive: There were new, attractive office buildings; a landscaped Ocean Boulevard providing an attractive entry to the area; a new convention center and an arena draped in cavorting whales that brought in conventioneers and visitors to stay in the new hotels being constructed. The contrast between perception and reality was obvious to anyone caring to venture downtown.
Long Beach was hardly alone in its efforts to rehabilitate a distressed downtown. All across the country the post-war development of suburban shopping centers had devastated the central core of American cities. Many cities still struggle to resuscitate their downtowns. The competition for new investors remains fierce, so a smart city must find innovative ways to do the job.
Downtown Long Beach Associates
Locally, Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), a non-profit group comprised of property owners and tenants located there, joined with the city’s former redevelopment agency to develop a “Downtown Plan” and address growth issues. In 1998, downtown property owners successfully implemented a special benefit assessment district encompassing approximately 70 blocks of the downtown area, bounded generally by Shoreline Drive, Golden Shore, Alamitos Avenue and 3rd Street/4th Street and portions north. Under this program, additional private funding was provided for maintenance, marketing, beautification, public safety and economic development programs.
As part of its ongoing effort to “sell Downtown Long Beach” to potential investors and businesses, the DLBA, on May 16, 2012, released its third annual economic profile highlighting the many economic and social attractions currently found there. The sleek, 28-page, new 2012 Economic Profile is patterned after similar “gold standard” publications in Seattle and Washington, D.C. It provides prospective investors with demographic data, a “psychographic” profile, and information on critical issues such as planning and zoning, transportation, new development, employment, housing, retail and office markets, hotels and tourism. It also emphasizes that while an attractive physical setting is important, it is the people behind the buildings that actually make Long Beach a great place to live, work and play.
Despite the considerable asset of Long Beach’s enviable physical setting, in difficult economic times such as these the competition to attract new businesses is exceptionally fierce. The DLBA is confident, however, that its newest economic report will help it compete effectively with other Southern California cities.
The 2012 Economic Profile is part of the DLBA’s efforts to establish itself as a valuable source for information on Downtown Long Beach. In addition to demographic and other pertinent data, it seeks to showcase the many opportunities offered there. Copies of the new Profile will therefore be distributed to all of its members, similar organizations across Southern California, the owners of downtown properties and prospective businesses in an effort to attract the desired results.
If the DLBA truly aspires to being a valued data resource for local businesses and prospective investors, it is essential that it more clearly define its current boundaries and the area used when compiling its information. This Profile includes only a vague, target-like map showing the three ‘zones’ briefly referenced in their “Demographic Profile at a Glance.” How is it then possible for someone to determine exactly what area the data references and, possibly, whether a particular site of interest falls within the DLBA’s boundaries? This lack of clarity is almost certain to be considered unhelpful by prospective clients wanting to create a more nuanced picture of the downtown area before committing their time and money to a project. The failure to make clear which areas were used by the DLBA in its analyses can therefore become a significant problem and one that should be remedied soon. After all, a good map, like a picture, is worth a thousand words!
Also featured at the profile’s rollout was Kenneth K. Hira, senior vice president for Kosmont Companies and an expert in retail development and strategies for retail attraction. In his comments, Hira noted that good demographics are critical since retail sales are a function of the number of people involved and their characteristics, such as income, travel patterns and education. It can also be important, he said, to examine retail and other patterns over a full 24-hour period. Doing so makes it possible to better demonstrate to a prospective business or investor that “the clients are really there.”
Downtown And The Remainder Of Long Beach
Since the DLBA’s primary focus is the downtown area, it is perhaps understandable that other than providing some brief demographic facts for the surrounding three-mile and five-mile planning rings, the new 2012 Economic Profile takes little notice of the rest of the city. But because Long Beach is thought by many to be one of the most promising urban centers in Southern California, this seems a curious omission.
Experience shows that careful investors are usually interested in learning more about the larger community, including its population characteristics and its educational, recreational and medical resources. Certainly, information pertaining to potential customers and employees would seem to warrant some mention. Yet, these facts are not included in the Profile. While the DLBA may have only sought to limit publishing costs, important benefits might well have been accrued by also including relevant information about the larger community and the considerable economic opportunities therein.
Also, while some 40-plus percent of the downtown’s residents may currently be “White, non-Hispanics,” demographic trends indicate that this is almost certain to change in the future. Why? Since 1980, the city has been undergoing a quite remarkable demographic transition. Whereas “White, non-Hispanics” comprised nearly two-thirds of the population in 1980, the 2010 Census revealed that they then formed just 28.7 percent of the total population. Hispanics, in contrast, went from 12.4 percent of the population to 38.8 percent over the same period of time and will likely continue to expand their share in the future. The remaining population consisted of African-Americans, Filipinos, Cambodians, Samoans and other so-called “minorities.” Here again, the Profile fails to reference the exceptional prospects offered by Long Beach’s diverse racial/ethnic character.
These omissions raise questions as to whom exactly the DLBA’s efforts will ultimately benefit. Is it the already generally affluent, predominantly “White, non-Hispanic” downtown residents, conventioneers and tourists or is it to also include other Long Beach residents and those living in nearby localities? It would be interesting to know what (if any) strategies are presently being considered by the DLBA to attract members of this larger, more diverse visitor base. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have some of these strategies featured in its 2013 Economic Profile?
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