Business groups drive improvement of State Street

Madeleine Ben

Thursday, 11/10/2022

Two influential Santa Barbara business groups are proposing an improvement district for the city’s ailing downtown, but some business owners have expressed reservations.

The 500 block of State Street in Santa Barbara on January 12th. Indoor dining was banned early in the pandemic; Now companies often have to make their own mitigation decisions. (Brooke Holland photo)

The Downtown Organization of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce have proposed a Community Benefit Improvement District aimed at reversing the area’s decline, including the Funk Zone, by improving its safety, cleanliness, and image. It would be funded through reviews of local businesses.

The area’s challenges included excessive demand for available housing, the length of time required to obtain building permits, and the deteriorating built environment.

“Our ultimate goal is to restore downtown Santa Barbara’s economic vitality and create a sustainable business district and destination that supports growth, dynamism and long-term economic capability,” said Mary Lynn Harms-Romo, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce said in an email interview.

However, critics complain about the proposed cost and the track record of previous efforts similar to Coast Village in Montecito.

“These counties have historically failed real estate owners,” said Jim Knell, chairman of SIMA Corporation, a local private real estate investment firm whose portfolio includes retail locations on State Street. “With the closure of State Street, the city is now worse than it has ever been.”

He also claimed that the proposed valuation of local businesses was “unviable”.

“Setback is to be expected,” said Harms-Romo. “However, the current state of the city center is not sustainable.”

She said the district will increase tourism and sales tax revenue.

Proponents suggest hiring New City America to provide security, sanitation, landscaping and marketing. The public-private partnership has also offered such services to other districts across the country. The most recent project was Coast Village.

Advocates continue their efforts to attract local business owners, including through group meetings.

“We will be having many one-on-one and group meetings with property owners,” said Robin Elander, executive director of the Downtown Santa Barbara organization. “Hopefully property owners will see the value.”


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