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The Time for Bold Action Is Now

Release Date: July 26,2019

City Needs an Economic Development Director and Department

Photo: Courtesy Carrie Kelly, Executive Director, Downtown Santa Barbara

Carrie Kelly, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara, submitted these remarks to the City Council on July 25, during the Kosmont Companies presentation.

Madam Mayor and City Council Members, thank you to City Administration, Paul Casey and Nina Johnson, for allowing me to speak today for Downtown Santa Barbara. I also want to thank the business owners and managers in attendance, many of whom have made time in the middle of their workdays to be here.

My name is Carrie Kelly and I am the Executive Director of Downtown Santa Barbara, an over 1,000-member organization that is dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of DSB for the benefit of its members, residents, and visitors. We appreciate the work of Kosmont Companies and their recommendations for downtown revitalization.

Our business community is excited, but frustrated. There have been reports, surveys, meetings, charrettes, workshops, consultants, working groups, and studies on Downtown Santa Barbara, and we have seen snippets of success, but now is the time for City Council to be bold and act on recommendations.

I performed a quick study of 20 cities in population close to Santa Barbara and all area cities — all had economic development departments or divisions. Those cities are undertaking marketing efforts, incentivizing business development, and have staff dedicated to helping businesses through the permitting process. I believe economic development is critical for city success.

Downtown S.B. fully endorses the recommendation to establish a director-level Economic Development position and to streamline the special event process under this department or division. We also fully support the suggestion from Kosmont to hire a separate project manager or Ombudsman. DSB recommends the City Council move that the City Manager come back with a staffing recommendation or reorganization plan within a month for these two positions.The time to act is now.

We ask the City to remember that Kosmont’s recommendation is for an economic development position and plan for all of the city of Santa Barbara, not just the downtown. While the downtown is the prime economic driver for the City, the city has development needs beyond downtown. Santa Barbara is fortunate to have in place private organizations who are willing and able to play crucial roles alongside the city in developing and implementing an economic development plan. We need a public-private partnership to support this position and to create a long-term Economic Development Plan for all of Santa Barbara.

One issue this study did not highlight but was a recommendation from our Retail Study was to create a plan to deal with the transient population in downtown. We recently surveyed business owners in our district, and overwhelmingly, the number one concern was homelessness. Decreased vacancies and more shoppers in our downtown will help, but our business community wants a comprehensive plan with measurable objectives for dealing with the transient population in downtown Santa Barbara. We would also recommend an increased police presence and a position within the City (similar to Oxnard and Ventura) that would help coordinate outside organizations working on homelessness issues.

Economic development is typically a long-term solution for cities — but, downtown also needs short-term solutions, and that is where our organization is well positioned. This is a new era for the Downtown Organization. Downtown Santa Barbara is currently undertaking a strategic planning process that will create a five-year plan and annual work plans for our organization. We will be reorganizing staff and committees to be more efficient and impactful with measurable outcomes. We will be focused on economic development, creating a safe and welcoming environment in downtown, drawing people to the center of the city for special events and unique experiences, and advocacy.

We are particularly well-suited to take the lead and partner with the city in business retention and marketing and special events. We will be shifting staff to a new position of Director of Member Services and Outreach to further build our relationships with business owners and managers. We have also added a full-time Digital Marketing Manager and this year we will redesign our website, redesign our logo for Downtown, develop a plan to brand and differentiate districts along State Street, and work with our art partners to incorporate public art and experiential events. We are also working to secure funding for an app or enhanced mobile website for Downtown Santa Barbara (DSB) — a “go to” for everything in downtown.

We were excited to be a partner in the Experiment Weekend, and DSB has the network and staff to plan and produce more block parties, pop-ups, and special events. In fact, we have a block party planned for Small Business Saturday and would love to do more. With funding and city assistance, we can also support planning and establishing a temporary pedestrian mall, should the city decide to move on that recommendation.

The time for Downtown Santa Barbara to act is now.

As we move forward, we ask that the city consider us its key partner in the enhancement of the “experience” that is downtown Santa Barbara. And we also ask the city to recognize that, to do the best job we can do at marketing and promoting downtown, DSB needs to retain its current funding sources (including the BID assessment) and to secure additional funding.

An investment in Downtown Santa Barbara yields huge tax benefits for the city. There are changes coming, there is an excitement in the air, anything is possible, and we need the city to be bold, take action, and make the changes necessary to make Santa Barbara more business friendly. Now is the time to act — let’s move forward with a department and an office that can work specifically on these issues, and create a proactive, business-friendly approach to doing business in Santa Barbara.