The Norse Village Business Association partnered with 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo and the Long Beach Economic Development Department (EDD) to pursue improvements including new crosswalks, lighting, bike racks, and trees. Pictured from left are Eric Romero, project manager for the EDD, Ian McPherson, president of the association, and Bryer Garcia, owner of Wolf’s Brew, a coffee house and art gallery on Norse Way. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)

During Fiscal Year 2018, the Long Beach City Council set aside $450,000 in savings to create a business corridor improvement pilot program benefiting three business zones on Carson Street, Anaheim Street and Pacific Coast Highway. The first to reap the fruits of this investment was the Norse Village Business Association (NVBA) area.

Located just beyond the northeast corner of the Lakewood Boulevard and Carson Street intersection, businesses on Norse Way and adjoining Village Road got together with help from 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo’s office, the Long Beach Economic Development Department and the NVBA to decide how best to spend their portion of the funding.

“The conversation started with the [NVBA] board, and once there was a general vision for the area and different projects people wanted to see, we then had a larger meeting with the businesses, talked through the process and identified some key projects,” Eric Romero, project manager for the economic development department, told the Business Journal.

According to Mungo, the decision among about 70 meeting attendees was unanimous. “It’s probably the largest meeting I have ever seen a unanimous [decision on] anything,” she said.

Ian McPherson, NVBA president and on-site manager of the Village Hotel, said the first priority was improving the walkability of the area, which was suffering due to ficus tree roots that were damaging sidewalks. “The first thing that had to happen was removal of trees,” McPherson said, noting that the decision caused some pushback among neighboring residents in Lakewood Village. But the trees had to go, he explained, both because of their effect on the sidewalks and because they blocked light poles, making it dark in the corridor at night.

Business owners met with an arborist and picked a new type of tree to replace the towering ficuses – crepe myrtles, which bloom pink in the spring. Because crepe myrtles have a less robust foliage, they were placed closer together, allowing for more trees along the corridor with 44 total, McPherson noted.

Now that storefronts are more visible, Mungo said property owners are making facade improvements with their own funds. “They are putting in new signage and painting . . . because now, people can see what restaurants and businesses are on the street,” she said.

Another major change was the addition of two cross walks in the corridor. The new crosswalk at the intersection of Norse Way and Village Road includes bollard-marked bulb outs for pedestrian use on either end, which help improve walkability and slow down traffic, Mungo explained.

Also important to business owners was the addition of 24 parking spaces, a 30% increase, Mungo noted. To make the area eye-catching and festive at night, festoon lighting was strung across the street. New bicycle racks and trash cans were also installed.

These improvements were completed in early December, just in time for the NVBA to hold a holiday event featuring guest appearances by Santa Claus, the Grinch and even Jack from Jack in the Box. “Fifteen-hundred people showed that night,” McPherson said.

Bryer Garcia opened his Norse Way business, Wolf’s Brew Coffee, three months ago – just before the start of construction. While he had no idea the improvements were coming, Garcia said he was glad to see them implemented. “With the improvements, it has changed the dynamic of the street. People are driving through it more. People walk through it more. It feels friendlier and inviting,” he said.

Councilmembers have interest in continuing the pilot program to fund additional business corridor projects like the one done along Norse Way and Village Road, according to Romero. “People are excited about what’s happening here and want to find ways to improve their business corridors,” he said. Grant funding is being considered to fund the program’s continuation, according to Mungo.

“The goal is to continue to find ways to revitalize business corridors, bring more customers to these areas,” Romero said.

(Growing Long Beach Is Presented In Partnership With The Long Beach Economic Development Department.)