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Broadway Critique Lacks Big Picture View

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, December 05, 2008, at 01:16PM
558 S. Broadway Eric Richardson [Flickr]

The F.B. Silverwood Building at 6th and Broadway has mostly vacant upper floors, which yesterday were the site of a small fire.

Running today on New Geography is a Broadway critique by the Garment and Citizen's Jerry Sullivan, who scolds the Bringing Back Broadway effort for announcing redevelopment funds and not working to fix the street's increasing vacancy for ground floor retail.

Yet the Broadway effort has put a focus on exactly that, in both programs announced and those in the works. Sullivan's criticism attempts to indict one program for not addressing all of the street's needs, but fails to recognize many parts of the effort that speak directly to his concerns.

The Bringing Back Broadway effort, announced back in February, has accomplished more in ten months than nearly anyone would have expected.

Committees formed as part of the effort have been meeting monthly, bringing dozens of Broadway stakeholders together to discuss and strategize the needs of the corridor.

The project to bring a streetcar back to Downtown has gone from a dream with a feasibility study to a real project with a non-profit under formation, initial engineering funding earmarked and significant public outreach completed.

In October, City Council passed a motion by Councilman Jose Huizar that created the "Commercial Reuse Task Force," a group that will be responsible for reshaping the rules that allow old commercial spaces to be brought back to life. Weeks later, Huizar's office announced the creation of a program with the Community Development Department to make $150 million per year available annually in loans to projects looking to renovate historic structures.

Sullivan takes particular aim at that last program, asking "whether $150 million might be better spent on something other than loans to property owners on the hopes that renovations will someday bring jobs from somewhere to the upper floors along Broadway." He paints the picture of a retail street with growing vacancies, and asks why the city isn't doing anything about those tenants.

So why not focus ways to help retailers hang on, and draw more to fill the new gaps at street level? How about renovations for storefronts, with merchants allowed a voice in the process? Or more cops for the area to help improve the atmosphere for shoppers? Or aggressive promotions of the retail scene? All of that might even entice a few more mid- and upper-scale merchants to set up shop on Broadway, sparking some organic changes in the marketplace.

Sullivan, who to my knowledge hasn't attended any of the Bringing Back Broadway committee meetings, may simply not realize how many of his suggestions have been the working goals of those involved.

The Planning and Preservation committee has been hard at work on Design Overlay Guidelines that would help guide Broadway's aesthetics. Those guidelines should soon be entering the public outreach stage, and that process will certainly involve the tenants Sullivan mentions. Along with those new guidelines will come incentives to help shops comply with the new codes.

The Marketing committee is working on an inventory of the street's current uses, and hopes to create a business assistance program after talking to shop owners and finding out what they need to succeed on the street.

In fact, the most immediate impact of Huizar's Commercial Reuse Task Force motion was directed straight at those looking to start ground floor businesses on Broadway. By placing projects on the corridor into the city's case management program, Huizar's office hopes to see shops, restaurants and cafes open more efficiently.

Broadway's revitalization will depend on a wide range of uses, with the theatres, upper floors and retail all playing critical roles. Why should one program of a larger effort be criticized for not providing for all the street's needs?


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