Setting the Stage for Economic Vitality
Darryl Holter imagines Figueroa Street five years from now as a bustling, attractive district. People walk along wide, tree-lined sidewalks, take in a movie or a play at USC, or meet at a coffee house. Businesses are thriving. The street is clean and safe.
“People will come and see something very different – a street that’s better balanced with trees and nice for pedestrians, where students don’t feel they need to drive to Pasadena or Santa Monica but can go right over to Figueroa,” said Holter, chief operating officer of the Shammas Group, which owns a number of car dealerships and other properties on Figueroa Street.
That vision was endorsed by 107 Figueroa Street property owners and institutions, including USC, who banded together to create the Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District (BID). The self-assessment district will generate an annual $500,000 budget for street maintenance, security and marketing programs. Created by votes of the property owners and the City Council last summer, with Holter serving as chair, the BID launched an intensive safety and cleanup program March 18 with festivities at the Automobile Club of Southern California.
“Safety ambassadors” patrolling on bicycles, “clean teams” undertaking graffiti removal and street maintenance, and colorful banners displaying the Figueroa Corridor logo will soon become familiar sights along Figueroa Street. The narrow, two-mile-long district generally includes Figueroa and Flower streets, from the Santa Monica Freeway south to Martin Luther King Boulevard. The boundaries also extend partway along Adams Boulevard, 23rd Street, Jefferson Boulevard and Exposition Boulevard to encompass Mount St. Mary’s College, the John Tracy Clinic, the Automobile Club of Southern California, Orthopaedic Hospital, the Shrine Auditorium, USC and Exposition Park.
“The Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District will set the stage for new economic activity to boost the vitality of this area,” said Thomas H. Moran, vice president for business affairs. “Neighboring businesses and organizations have all stepped forward to form the partnership, paving the way for changing perceptions of Figueroa Street.”
THE BID IS THE FIRST concrete step toward transforming the Figueroa Corridor into a thriving district for cultural, educational, sports and entertainment activities, as well as for restaurants, retail outlets, multimedia and other businesses.
The thoroughfare’s transformation was articulated by the Figueroa Corridor Economic Development Strategy, funded by the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) at the request of Figueroa property owners and businesses. Among other measures to boost economic activity, the plan calls for integrating the street’s districts and creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment by widening the sidewalks, building a park-like median and “greening” the edges.
A. BINGHAM CHERRIE, executive director of planning in the Office of Business Affairs and vice chair of the BID Steering Committee, said the BID addresses many of the key needs identified by the economic development strategy. For instance, physical improvements to the streetscape go hand-in-hand with maintenance and public safety programs.
“Our charge is to change the perception of Figueroa,” Cherrie said. “We will start to do that by reinforcing the great institutions and businesses who are our neighbors, and by putting representatives on the street – safety ambassadors and clean teams. Our desire is to change the impression of people inside and outside of Los Angeles to a realization that the Figueroa Corridor is a safe and clean business and cultural district.”
Inside a one-man office at Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, Ashod Mooradian juggles his phone, computer and fax machine as he coordinates the activities of the Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District.
Mooradian, executive director of the Figueroa Corridor BID, said the district will work in conjunction with the Figueroa Corridor economic development plan.
“The plan is meant to be a catalyst to make things happen,” said Mooradian, a 1992 graduate of the Marshall School of Business. “When the owners get together and are doing something to improve the area, it’s like throwing good money after good. It shows there is support among the people here for other improvements in the corridor.”
Among its specific activities, the BID has enlisted contractors to carry out the maintenance and public safety programs. Totally Secured – based in Culver City, which has long provided security for businesses along Figueroa, including the Shrine Auditorium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – will provide “safety ambassadors.” Four bicycle officers will patrol during the day and one auto patrol will handle the night shift.
GARBED IN T-SHIRTS bearing the Figueroa Corridor logo, ambassadors began cruising the street in teams of two this month. While they do not have police powers to make arrests, they will report crimes on cellular phones, assist people and respond to inquiries.
“Their main mission is to provide information to people,” Mooradian said. “They will become a familiar presence in the area. When something happens, they will be there right away.”
Tony Rutherford, president of Totally Secured, said the ambassadors will be the “eyes and ears” of businesses and pedestrians who use Figueroa Street. “In every study of an area with a bike or foot patrol there on a daily basis, there’s been a decrease in crime statistics and an increase in business. People start feeling more comfortable. You have somebody there all the time who you trust, who can help you, give you directions and information.”
Chrysalis, an agency that places formerly homeless citizens in jobs, will provide the “clean teams,” consisting of three cleaners and one field supervisor. Armed with brooms and trash carts, the clean teams will work five days a week, eight hours per day. Their mission is to dramati-cally improve the corridor’s image by removing graffiti, trash and debris; pressure-cleaning sidewalks; sweeping sidewalks and gutters; and doing some landscape maintenance.
Contracting with Totally Se-cured and Chrysalis also meets the BID’s policy to use local vendors whenever possible, Mooradian said.
“We want to have a social impact on the area,” Moor-adian said. Chrysalis, which will work in conjunction with the city’s Operation Clean-Sweep, handles maintenance for other business improve-ment districts in Los Angeles, including the recently launched Downtown Center District.
Holter said marketing programs and events sponsored by the BID will kick into place once the maintenance and public safety efforts are showing results.
The Figueroa Corridor BID will also coordinate activities with adjacent BIDs established in the Fashion District and the Down-town Center District.
In cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Portland and Sacramento, business improvement districts have sparked economic activity and improved perceptions of an area as safer and cleaner. For example, the Times Square District in New York City documented a 43.7 percent drop in crime in two years, while the Downtown Houston District experienced a 54 percent reduction in crime in four years. The Los Angeles Fashion District saw a 20 percent reduction in crime in one year.
In terms of economic development, the Downtown Sacramento District realized a 20 percent increase in customer traffic due to marketing campaigns and special events, and the Downtown Phoenix District reported an 83 percent increase in retail sales tax revenue after four years.