Easy Reader Staff

Urban Land Institute urges Manhattan Beach to take multifaceted approach to retrofit downtown

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Richard Perlmutter, ULI panel chair, presents the panels’ findings to the community Friday at the Joslyn Center. Photos by Esther Kang

Richard Perlmutter, ULI panel chair, presents the panels’ findings to the community Friday at the Joslyn Center. Photos by Esther Kang

Concluding their five-day residency in Manhattan Beach Friday, eight national experts from the Urban Land Institute strongly urged the city to take action on a wide array of initiatives to ensure the vitality of the city’s downtown.

On Friday morning at the Joslyn Center, at least 100 community members sat before the panelists, who spent their stay interviewing some 125 residents and stakeholders and learning about the city. Contracted by the city council for $125,000 last October, the ULI was tasked with finding how best to develop the area’s infrastructure and economics while staying true to residents’ desire for a quaint, homey downtown.

In a 94-page powerpoint presentation, the panel—comprised of developers, architects, land economists and urban planners from across the country—expounded on retail trends, urban design concepts, transportation and parking strategies as well as implementation strategies and progressive governance.

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“This is the question we’ve been asking ourselves most of the week and digging through everything you’ve told us and everything the data tells us, which is, is there actually a market issue here?” said panelist Erin Talkington, a Maryland-based architect and real estate advisor.

At least 100 residents, business owners, property owners, city staff and officials gathered at the Joslyn Center Friday to hear from ULI.

At least 100 residents, business owners, property owners, city staff and officials gathered at the Joslyn Center Friday to hear from ULI.

Talkington explained that from an economic perspective, as indicated by the strong demand and high rent for downtown’s storefronts, the area is operating in a “logical and healthy way.” For small businesses to thrive, controlling rent is not a solution, she said, but the city should focus on the “underlying dynamics of the market” to deter high rent levels. That includes limiting store sizes, regulating zoning and use as well as branding the design of buildings.

Improving parking and encouraging spending will also help small businesses, she said, recommending the community to study how visitors access the downtown, where they stay and where they park.

“Competitive threats are surfacing—we recognize that,” Talkington said. “We heard from you and see it in the market, but the key you’re gonna hear over and over again is to manage these proactively, not reactively.”

Michael Lander, an urban developer based in Minneapolis, urged the city to update its 2008 Master Parking Plan and offered a few suggestions to address the severe lack of parking in downtown.

“I can say I heard two things from everybody: We love our small-town character and we’ve got a parking problem,” Lander said.

He suggested creating remote parking lots for visitors in the outskirts of downtown and shuttle them to the center, or even partnering with a ride-sharing company like Uber. The Von’s store on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Ardmore Avenue can be redeveloped to include underground parking, he said.

“These traditional places were built before the car,” he said. “They need some really skillful intervention to retrofit the community so it functions for the car and doesn’t destroy the small-town character. That takes really sophisticated design and careful attention to detail.”

Other recommendations from the panel included building new infrastructure to an appropriate scale, taking advantage of the city’s AAA rating and issuing a bond for future infrastructure, seeking public-private partnerships, hiring an economic development manager for the city, forming an informal downtown residents’ association and developing design guidelines and contracting an urban designer to review proposed infrastructure.

Panelist Richard Reinhart, CEO of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, said while implementing these many initiatives will cost the city millions of dollars, such measures don’t have to be instituted all at once. He urged the city not to shelve this study as it did with its 1996 Downtown Strategic Plan.

“Things are really good here and there’s not too much of a motive to work on some of these things, but now is definitely the time to do it,” Reinhart said.

Mayor Wayne Powell said he is ready to “get the ball rolling” on these recommendations, with council action coming as early as the beginning of February.

“Oftentimes you have someone from the outside, they see things that longtime residents don’t see, like myself,” Powell said, adding that he agrees with the recommendation to update the 1996 Downtown Strategic Plan.

Kris D’Errico, 38-year resident and president of the Downtown Business and Professional Association, said she noted their suggestion to make downtown more experiential and utilize the sidewalks and lots by the beach.

“I think each business needs to look at how they’re serving the community,” D’Errico said. “If they think they’re not doing well, what can they do to make their stores better, make their windows better, merchandise product mix better? It’s all up to ourselves to do better, whether you’re a resident or a business owner.

A full video of the meeting will be available Saturday on local broadcast. The video and powerpoint presentation will be available by Tuesday on the city website, citymb.org.

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