What's next for Downtown?

DOWNEY - The city moved one step closer this week to solidifying distinctive change in the Downtown district as the City Council and Planning Commission met in joint session on Tuesday to discuss a new, specific plan, which calls for a broader, more vibrant Downtown.In addition to enlarging the scope of the Downtown district, the plan drafted by city staff also establishes five separate Downtown zones that will provide a variety of dining, shopping, entertainment, housing, and cultural opportunities for residents. According to the plan, the city hopes to re-brand the area as a cultural and economic center for Downey by attracting new retail businesses and creating a unique character for the Downtown district by making it a pedestrian-centered thoroughfare. Currently, Downtown Downey, with Downey Avenue at its core, stretches from Firestone Boulevard in the south, up to Fifth Street and is bounded by Dolan Avenue to the east and Myrtle Street to the west. Once the plan is approved, the city will expand the Downtown district to encompass Brookshire Avenue in the east, Paramount Boulevard on the west and the Union Pacific railroad to the south. The northern boundary will run mainly along Fourth and Fifth streets but will peak at Seventh Street to include the former Gallatin Medical site on Paramount Boulevard. Considered a historic landmark and resource, the Rives Mansion, located on the corner of Third Street and Paramount Boulevard, will also become a part of Downtown. Under the redevelopment proposal, the city will embrace strategies, such as creating a Downtown Business Association, to retain businesses in the Downtown while courting new retailers. Also, housing development is a major priority as the city hopes to bring various residential projects into the area, including upscale townhomes, live/work studios and courtyard apartments. City officials also envision several open, public gathering spaces, such as large park areas in the Downtown that can be utilized for community events. If approved, new, urban standards for design and architecture will be set for Downtown structures and new gateway signs will be installed at key intersections leading into the district. The Downtown specific plan also calls for the "greening" of the streets by adding more trees and plants. Hoping to attract more visitors, the city will encourage more outdoor dining locations, entertainment venues and cultural programming. In order to ensure specific development takes place within certain areas of the Downtown district, the plan establishes five distinct zones within the area. According to the plan, the Downtown Core district, which centers on Downey Avenue and Third Street, will feature retail stores on the ground level with office and/or residential units on the second and third floors. The proposed Downtown Residential district, located primarily between Second and Fourth streets, hopes to establish and maintain a thriving residential neighborhood in the Downtown area to help support the local businesses and serve as a watchdog community. While the Firestone Boulevard Gateway district will be a livelier area dedicated to office spaces, retail opportunities and entertainment venues, the Paramount Boulevard Professional district will seek to provide an environment for commercial, medical and office properties. The last district, the Civic Center district, is envisioned to include a large public gathering space for community festivals, fairs and events. Several city officials praised the plan, acknowledging that drafting such a blueprint was a vital first step, necessary to bring about lasting change to the Downtown district. "I'm really excited about the direction this is going - this is a great start," said Councilman Mario Guerra. "Our Downtown is much bigger than Downey Avenue - we've seen the old pictures of Downtown - this could bring us back to the future in a sense…now we just have to do the implementation of it." Councilman David Gafin also praised the proposal but maintained that the plan must ensure vibrancy in the Downtown in order to attract residents and new patrons to the area. "If we don't have entertainment, cultural activities, outside dining and centralized areas downtown, then we're just spinning our wheels here," said Gafin. "You've got to have the people down there - we have to give people a reason to go downtown after 5 p.m." Assistant City Manager Gilbert Livas was adamant that the plan was indeed created for implementation. "The last thing we wanted was a plan that sat on the shelf," said Livas. "We wanted a plan grounded in reality that was economically viable for businesses to open up here in the Downtown. I believe we accomplished that."

********** Published: July 8, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 12