Last month, Austin Metoyer took the reins as the Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s first new CEO in 25 years.

Metoyer, a graduate of Long Beach Poly and Cal State Long Beach, joined the DLBA in 2016 where he most recently served as economic development and policy manager.

Two weeks into his new role, I sat down with him to learn more about his vision for the organization and Downtown as a whole. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

HAYLEY MUNGUIA: Coming out of COVID, it’s a really interesting time—a challenging time. A lot of residents and business owners have talked about homelessness and public safety and how they’ve gotten worse during the pandemic. What do you see as the DLBA’s role in addressing those types of issues?

AUSTIN METOYER: So, I do want to be cautious of the lane that we’re in. We are not a service provider. There are limits to what we can do, but I think there is a role for us to continue to have our safety ambassadors, to continue our Clean and Safe Team services. But I also think we can be kind of a facilitator of conversations between those service providers—those who are doing the work on the ground with our unhoused community—the city and the residents.

One thing that was called out in the [Property Based Improvement District] management plan was a homeless outreach manager. We heard from the community that they wanted a level of coordination for all those resources in Downtown. For the longest time, what we’ve had on the organizational side was homeless outreach coordinators or staff that would go out and just kind of provide some of the basic necessities and follow-ups with individuals experiencing homelessness, but there was no real coordination with other service providers and trying to really track how those individuals are doing and getting them into housing, whether it be transitional or permanent housing.

So that’s one area where I think the organization will focus because we’ve heard from the community, and that’s one way of addressing it. But I think—and you probably know—this is a national issue and a statewide issue, and outside of building housing quickly, we’re not going to be able to solve this issue in six months or a year. But I think there are things we can be smarter about doing in terms of directing the necessary resources.

HM: And on the housing side: How do you see the DLBA’s role there in encouraging more housing in Downtown?

AM: In the last, I’d say two or three years, we’ve shifted our focus to say that we need to build a spectrum of housing. That’s market-rate housing. That’s affordable housing. That’s micro-units. In my opinion, that’s looking at tiny homes or modular homes.

We also need to look at how we revisit office space. Whether or not office comes back in the way it was before, there are some assets you could look at converting into housing.

I will say that I think, historically, the Downtown has—rightfully so, in some respects—taken the burden of housing production. And while I understand that we’re zoned for greater density and the city has gone through a process of trying to upzone certain areas of the city, I think there needs to be a real push from everyone—our entire city—to look at greater housing production across the spectrum, across the city, and not just say, “Put it in Downtown.” I think that we have a role to play, and I’m happy the organization pushes for that, but you know, if you want to solve a problem that is citywide, you cannot expect one district or one area to be the solution to that problem. The entire city has to step up.

HM: Speaking of the office market, that’s something I wanted to touch on. It’s still kind of unclear where the use of office space is going to land. How are you thinking about that?

AM: I don’t think we give up on office and say it’s never coming back. But I think downtowns and property owners and businesses need to recognize the idea that downtowns won’t be built for office workers the way they were before.

They’re built for—at this point in time, it’s residents, right? It’s been residents who’ve been keeping a lot of the small businesses afloat over the last two years. It’s them who came out at the height of the pandemic saying, “shop local, shop small.” It’s them looking at little events to go out to and picking up to-go lunches or whatnot.

So downtowns may be places where people can generally connect. It’s about creating opportunities and events that allow for residents and office workers and those who are visiting from outside the city to connect. So I think that’s where the organization’s focus is going to be. We’re not going to say, “office is doomed,” but we’ll start looking at community engagement on a wider scale rather than just focusing on that daytime office population.

And I think that means our small businesses need to also shift their mindset. If office workers don’t come back en masse in, say, the next six months, do you still think about lunchtime opportunities for those office workers? Or do you shift how you’re marketing toward the residents that are here?

I’ll also say, for our commercial offices, it’s working with them on how we market those buildings maybe in a different way and getting them to think about what amenities they have—and perhaps thinking about Downtown as a larger amenity to help attract new tenants to fill those spaces. You have the Long Beach Economic Partnership that’s out there doing citywide marketing—how are we partnering with them, as well as the city’s Economic Development Department, to bring some businesses in logistics, aerospace and the like into some of these office spaces?

HM: When it comes to the bigger picture and your own leadership style and priorities, do you see any changes or new direction for the DLBA?

AM: Coming out of the pandemic, a priority for my team is: We need to get back out into the community. The community needs to know who we are and who the staff is. And the staff need to know who it is they are serving. I will say our Clean and Safe Teams—they’re out here everyday, so they know the communities they work with. But on the other side of the house, with our full-time staff members, it’s getting them out there—and that’s getting them all the way around the Downtown area. When you think about 10th Street and Atlantic Avenue, that’s completely different than when you think about Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, right?

Heck, even when you think about Drake Park or Cesar Chavez Park—what are we doing over there? How are we participating with the communities there, whether they be small business owners or they be residents? And I understand there’s limitations on funding and where it can go, but I think there are some creative ways we can start thinking about what we do and how we engage the community.

Let me be frank—I’m ambitious in wanting us to go on this big tour in the next three months. That seems a little crazy depending on all the other things we need to do, but over the next year, I want us out there. I almost want the community to be tired of seeing us. And I understand I’m the leader of the organization, and people recognize me, but I don’t need to be, 100% of the time, the face of the organization. We have other staff that do great work, and I want the community to know who they are.

Hayley Munguia is editor of the Long Beach Business Journal.