Serving the community since 1937, the nonprofit Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) oversees downtown’s business improvement district, comprised of two assessment areas where fees collected from commercial and residential property owners go towards services related to security, beautification, marketing, economic and community development, events, maintenance and advocacy. As 2020 approaches, the DLBA continues to adapt with the times, structuring its programming to meet the greatest needs of the neighborhoods it serves.
In 2020, the biggest influence in the area is going to be the addition of new housing, according to Kraig Kojian, president and CEO of the DLBA. “Residential development is going to continue to drive the economy in our downtown, both for service businesses as well as retail,” he said.
Thousands of new residential units are being built throughout downtown – and while Kojian said this investment is driving the area’s economy, he also cited the need for affordable housing as a challenge. Many of the developments, like the recently completed Oceanaire on Ocean Boulevard and Park Broadway across from the Billie Jean King Main Library, boast some of the area’s highest rents for luxury living. Kojian noted that the need for housing that is more affordable is one facing not only Downtown Long Beach, but the State of California as a whole.
When the Long Beach Planning Commission received a commissioned report on inclusionary housing needs in Long Beach earlier this year, the DLBA hired Los Angeles-based firm Beacon Economics to conduct a peer review, Kojian noted. “We have found some of their assumptions to be somewhat questionable, so we commissioned Beacon Economics to do a peer analysis,” he said. “We are meeting with our executive committee again on Friday of this week . . . to identify a menu of recommendations that we want to make to our board on December 18, where it will then codify those recommendations in a position statement.”
An issue linked closely to that of affordable housing is homelessness, and it is one the DLBA continues to address, according to Kojian. The DLBA staffs two homeless outreach specialists trained to communicate with individuals experiencing mental health issues, he noted. Additionally, he said, “We’re lucky enough to have a [city] health department that can face and address these challenges from a very myopic perspective, rather than say a regional perspective that the county has to address.”
Another challenge facing downtown, and much of the country, is the future of retail. Kojian noted that online shopping has had a dramatic effect on shopping habits, creating challenges for brick and mortar stores to stay in business. Luckily for downtown, the influx of residential developments ought to support the restaurants and retailers in the area, he noted. In particular, Kojian has seen an abundance of new food and beverage establishments over the past couple of years.
“I would like to see the [residential] development happen quicker to be able to help support some of those establishments that have already come online, projecting their business based on the number of residents that will be coming,” Kojian said. “It becomes almost the chicken and the egg – do I develop a food and beverage establishment now in anticipation of this development occurring, or do I wait until it gets closer and closer?” He added, “Time is money. And regardless of what side of the equation you’re on – whether you’re on the development side or creating an establishment – it can’t come quick enough.”
The opening of the new Long Beach Civic Center – which not only heralded the opening of a new city hall and main library but also the return of the Port of Long Beach’s administration offices to downtown – has been beneficial for businesses in the West Gateway neighborhood, particularly those near the Los Angeles County Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse, according to Kojian.
The next phase of the civic center project, dubbed the “midblock,” will add new residences and a new version of Lincoln Park to downtown. “We want to make sure that that is a quality open space with amenities for all people and families that help support that area,” Kojian said of the future park. “Gathering places are really important for downtowns, and that is our major gathering space as far as open space is concerned. We really have to make it right.”
To help new and existing businesses strategize, the DLBA continues to grow its economic development programs, and in recent years has placed particular emphasis on workshops for business owners and entrepreneurs. These are spaced throughout the year so that those interested can continue to build upon their expertise, Kojian noted.
The DLBA’s economic development programming includes: 1 Million Cups Long Beach (an entrepreneurial program affiliated with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation) the Women-Owned Business Accelerator, Google Workshops, the Entrepreneur Education Series, the Winter Small Business Workshop and others. Details about these programs are available at downtownlongbeach.org.
“We want to give them a strong foundation to build their business,” Kojian said of his organization’s economic development services. “We want to be able to provide some guidance and some direction with this toolbox of resources,” he said, noting that the DLBA not only educates businesses, but also helps direct them to financial resources like the city’s microloan program.
When it comes to marketing downtown, this year the DLBA experienced quite a bit of growth on its social media platforms. “The past year has been very successful for DLBA social media,” Kojian said. “For example, on Instagram we saw 29% growth on organic impressions in 2019 with the top 20 impressionable posts of all time coming from this past year. In 2019, we earned one million impressions on Twitter, four million on Instagram and almost seven million on Facebook.” He explained, “We attribute these results to a consistent strategic posting schedule, regularly engaging with community accounts and producing valuable content for our followers.”
The majority of the DLBA’s spending goes toward its clean and safe programming, which includes a wide variety of services geared toward beautification and security. This year, the DLBA conducted a survey on the public’s perception of safety in downtown, and is preparing to implement some new initiatives based on the results. For example, in 2020, the DLBA will conduct a “walk audit” of the business district to identify areas where additional lighting is needed. At the request of local stakeholders, the DLBA also plans to “host some workshops for downtown building managers and businesses and their staff as to how to work with persons experiencing mental illness and homelessness,” Kojian noted.
One clean and safe program already underway is a partnership with the city prosecutor’s office and the Long Beach Police Department, in which business and property owners can grant the police the authority to warn, cite or arrest trespassers even if an owner or manager is not present.
To keep downtown active and engaging for the community, the DLBA continues its placemaking efforts aimed at improving the public realm. This year, it participated in Park(ing) Day, an international event that temporarily converts parking spaces into community gathering places. “This year, we did it out in front of the Edison Theatre. We built off the flower installation [art exhibit] that was at the Edison, and we extended it out in a seating area outside. We built out the space for parking day,” Kojian explained. The DLBA also continues to use The Loop, an outdoor art installation it spearheaded at Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, for events like its music series Live After 5.
Next year, the DLBA is installing new pedestrian wayfinding signage, according to Kojian. “This program is going to be in concert with the citywide gateway signage as well as vehicular signage that they are introducing throughout the entire city,” he said. The signs will direct pedestrians to different neighborhoods and destinations in downtown. “We’re going to introduce 12 new pedestrian signs as Phase 1 for our program in 2020, and then look at adding more pedestrian signs in the future.”
In 2020, the DLBA plans to continue offering events to activate downtown. Its outdoor Live After 5 music series will continue beginning in April, after most inclement weather has passed, Kojian noted. The DLBA’s Taste of Downtown and Summer & Music series will also return next year.
Overall, Kojian has a favorable impression of the current business climate in downtown. “The business attitude and the culture is very positive,” he said. “The new operators . . . and investors that we’ve had come on board are very optimistic about what’s happening and what will happen.”