DOWNEY - The brief groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday to showcase the ongoing improvements on Nance Street was a simple one but replete with huge implications for the Downey downtown area.All three hard-hatted council members present, including mayor pro tem Roger Brossmer, as well as David Gafin and Mario Guerra, with their ceremonial shovels broke the ground where 100 additional public parking spaces are to be built as part of the improvements now transforming the grid bounded by La Reina Avenue, Firestone Boulevard, Downey Avenue and Nance Street-as good an indication as any, say city officials, of the "intensified" revitalization of downtown. The improvements on Nance Street include an extension of the 8-inch water main along the length of Nance Street, interconnecting with the 10-inch water mains along Downey Avenue and the one on Firestone. By connecting the water mains of La Reina Avenue and Nance Street, water pressure will be equalized, according to public works officials, resulting in a free flow of water in the grid. The water main installation, due to be finished in mid-August, will not only serve the burgeoning business establishments in the area but also provide better fire protection services. The improvements on Nance Street would also enhance, according to economic development manager Stephen Yee, the integration of the operations of DowneyLink and MTA transit systems, and will encourage greater foot traffic in the whole downtown area, where such establishments such as Porto's Bakery, Fresh 'n Easy, Free Beans, and the recently expanded Mambo Grill, and others, will be benefited. This of course should spell much-needed city tax revenue, among other things, and is well within the compass of the city's Downtown Specific Plan. The improvements were not least aimed at supporting the construction, currently underway, of the restaurant/retail commercial center, called Downey Gateway, at Downey Avenue and Firestone Boulevard which has been designated as the southern entrance to the downtown area. It will be recalled that the city council entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the developer, Westland Real Estate Group, last year. The city is taking advantage of stimulus funds in fulfilling its financial contribution to the project. In a press release issued this week by the city's public information office, Marquez put Tuesday's event in perspective: "The Nance Street Improvement Project is another way the city is facilitating the revitalization of downtown Downey by implementing the public improvements that are vital to attracting new investments and opportunities to the area." Other people who attended the ceremony (most enjoyed the protection of a huge canopy set up for the occasion) were members of the City Council, city staff, the Chamber of Commerce, Westland representatives, and other guests Although Westland partner Yanki Greenspan did not speak at the event, he seemed very pleased with the progress (and prospects) of his 26,000 sq. ft. Downey Gateway investment project. Total funding for the Nance Street improvements totals $350,000 with the city footing $290,000 for the public parking lot and water main construction, financed mostly with federal grant money, with Westland assuming the balance plus other costs associated with developing the property. Subbing for the mayor, Brossmer paid tribute to staff for structuring the whole Nance Street improvement project, as well as to Westland for its partnership with the city. With the advent of new dining and shopping opportunities in the area, he said, the city can look forward to a revitalized, fresher downtown. "Without the amenities, nobody will come," he said. In the press release, Brossmer said: "We're looking forward to the new dining, entertainment, and cultural opportunities supported by the Nance Street improvements and the Downey Gateway project, all of which are important components in making downtown Downey an appealing destination." An interview with Guerra, whose district embraces the Downey Gateway development, yielded the following insights as well: "When we were hammering out the Downtown Specific Plan, to attract new business in the area, some people said, 'We're going too fast'-now we say 'We're not going fast enough'"; "We're basically sending out signals that we're moving"; "We must not forget, though, that while we are the cheerleaders in all this exciting renaissance, it's staff who's doing the heavy lifting"; "Next we'll focus on 'branding' which means a lot more than it's commonly perceived. We'll elaborate on this as we go along." Guerra made sure he emphasized the sobriquet "award-winning" whenever he mentioned the Downtown Specific Plan. He also said there was a "logic or reason" to the recent demolition of the Verizon building and the groundbreaking at Nance Street occurring within four days of each other. This was what Yee mentioned as the reason for the city's main focus on making the downtown area conducive to walking rather than vehicular activity: "We'd like to encourage walkers to visit and patronize the various shops and restaurants along Downey Avenue especially and, now, the Downey Gateway complex." As emcee for the event Tuesday, community development director Brian Saeki complimented his staff for their contributions as well as the assistance rendered by the Downey Chamber of Commerce. He later said his department is currently reviewing a couple of 'hot' prospects that would fit in with the increasingly upscale restaurant/lounge look along Downey Avenue.
********** Published: July 28, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 15