The Santa Ana Sentinel

Want Variety? Not in DTSA

Posted in Business, Downtown by Omar Ávalos Gallegos on January 5, 2013

It’s become clear that when earlier Santa Ana city councils thought of reviving the downtown, they thought of recreating Costa Mesa’s “The Lab.” The city enticed business owners at “The Lab” to come to DTSA. The word is that the city gave certain businesses large sums of money to setup shop.

The problem is that they needed to couple consumers for those types of businesses, and those consumers were generally newly arrived as well. There was, never, any intention of marketing to the Santa Ana consumer base.

What’s that? You want proof?

Years ago, before the Proof bar opened, the “Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce” sent out a newspaper called the City Line. I clearly recall reading in that paper that Proof was specifically going to cater to “young professionals from Anaheim Hills, Irvine etc.”

I thought, WHAT THE #%$@?!

How dare they be so blatantly ignorant of Santa Ana locals, and how stupid are they to publish such nonsense without thinking that a local would read it?

Fast-forward and some downtown business owners, or one specific entity, will have you think that all is fine and dandy.

Take for example what this person told the Register.

“Downtown Inc. is pleased to have the question (of) the legality of the assessment of downtown property fully behind it now and looks forward to continued success in revitalizing Santa Ana’s newly vibrant downtown for the benefit of all users and the City as a whole,” said Ryan Chase, the nonprofit’s board chairman.

Orange County Register, January 4, 2013.

I don’t believe it. Why? Because for as long as the Yost theater has been reopened I can count the number of Spanish pop concerts held there that appeal to Santa Ana locals with five fingers. Oh, but I’ve been told that shows like this will occur there. And I am yet to be satisfied.

The House of Blues (Hollywood and Anaheim) gets Spanish rock / pop. El Rey Theater gets it. The Observatory in Santa Ana gets it. The Conga Room DTLA gets it. So many other LA-region venues get it but this one Yost just refuses to.

Note that an older attempt from that venue to bring in something “Latino” failed miserably, and that was when they brought in Norteño music, a genre commonly associated with stories of drug cartels.

Thanks. Because when I think Latino or Mexican music, I think Norteño narco corridos.

Before we continue, know that Santa Ana’s median age is something around 26 or 27 last time I checked. Whoever is promoting the Yost is clearly, clearly, out of touch with this demographic, perhaps even willingly.

Want Eating Choices? Not in DTSA

Do you want to find a, respectable, variety of eating choices coupled with nightlife in Downtown Santa Ana? You won’t find it here.

But you can go to Memphis for a burger, then you can go to Chapter 1 for a variation of a burger, then you can go to The Playground for an overpriced burger.

Am I oversimplifying? Yes. But can I go downtown for Mediterranean? No. Cantonese? No. Indian? No. Five-Star Mexican? No. Sushi? No.

It is absolutely preposterous that in a city like Santa Ana, we don’t have a dining experience like La Huasteca at Plaza México in Lynwood.

Where is the Ward 2 Representative?

It’s said that a city is defined by its downtown and just where the heck is the Ward 2 rep?

I argue that a councilperson representing Ward 2 should get to the task of networking and attracting a variety of businesses to the downtown. To not do that is to allow whatever promoting agency that exists now (Downtown Inc) to use their network or whatever people they know, people that they want, to setup restaurants or businesses catered to non-Santa Ana locals.

In other words, and to put things frankly and bluntly, allow the complete and finalized whitewashing of DTSA.

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  1. Archie D Brown said, on January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Here is different perspective of this topic, although the result is the same conclusion. In general, attracting consumers or businesses from outside your borders to spend money in your city is good thing. It enhances the tax base, stimulates further investment, creates jobs, etc. Cities that successfully attract this source of revenue are able to enhance the amenities it provides to its citizens. However, these cities need to have a well thought out strategy for to implement this.

    In the early 90’s, Long Beach made a significant effort toward attracting high end national retailers to its downtown to broaden its appeal with suburbanite middle class shoppers. They were willing to offer loans that would be forgiven if these types of establishments would set up shop for a minimum ten years. The mantra for city officials was “we want to be like San Diego’s Gaslamp District.” Yet even for a city with a waterfront downtown offering subsidies, few retailers seriously considered this opportunity. They would simply look at the demographics within a 3 mile radius of downtown and concluded that half their potential customers were fish while the majority of the other half were not their core clientele. Furthermore, these retailers believed that the area did not hold enough appeal to consistently bring people from outside this area. Of the few retailers that did make an attempt, all folded up shop before the ten year period.

    Unlike Long Beach, San Diego already had the necessary building blocks in place to make this strategy work. They have well over 100,000 office workers coming there each day. They have twenty to thirty thousand hotel rooms in around the area compared to a few thousand in Long Beach. Furthermore, San Diego experiences far less competition shoppers from its outlining areas than Long Beach.

    Moving on to Santa Ana, I get how the downtown is able successfully attract the 20 -30 year old Orange County hipster who once had to drive LA/Hollywood to find the type of happening night life now found here. However for those who want to roll out the welcome mat for the rest of Orange County to spend their money beyond the bars and clubs consider this; there are seven other Orange County cities with population greater 100,000. All but one have substantial business/commercial districts with the economies of scale to support them along with at least five other communities which also have strong business districts although their populations are less than 100,000. That means these folks have to drive past at least one if not two commercial areas that probably offer the same service or product that someone conceives in offering them in downtown Santa Ana. That is not to suggest that the Santa Ana product or service would be inferior, but it would face tremendous competition where these other communities have the advantage of convenience.

    Would it be much easier and more advantageous to attract those who live in Santa Ana
    to spend their money downtown rather than elsewhere. I can drive through neighborhoods in all six wards and see that there is disposable income throughout the city. Long Beach eventually gave up the idea of appealing to the Nordstrom type customer and re-did its downtown mall anchored by WalMart. It is not as glamorous, but it is patronized by the locals and it works very well.

    • Omar Ávalos Gallegos said, on January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am

      The approach taken in downtown Santa Ana is to build upscale housing to install a new, better-healed consumer base. The surrounding apartments have priced out former tenants and are now going after that 20-30 year old group you mention. It’s gone okay so far on those ends. Some are buying and restoring homes just outside of the downtown near French Park and Santa Ana High School. These combined form a colony of new arrivals.

      I’ve spoken to some people that live and play in the area and the consensus is that they don’t want the downtown to lose its character and that this could happen by attracting too many recognizable store brands. Some simply don’t want franchises. But I disagree with them.

      The downtown needs to couple its unique restaurants with recognizable brands. I think that would make it more inviting, and not just to 20 and 30 year olds wanting nightlife.

      I’ve seen the Wal Mart in downtown Long Beach and I’m sure that it won’t sit well with the newly-arrived people now living in downtown Santa Ana. They would rather see a Trader Joe’s. There’s one guy who wants to be able to buy fine suits and shoes and wants to see a Tiffany & Co. That won’t happen unless more recognizable brands are brought in. I don’t think we have enough space for the traffic impact that Wal Mart would have, and it would kill all businesses on Fourth Street.

      To me an ideal downtown Santa Ana would have a balance of businesses, reflected particularly in its nightlife. There would be a wider variety of eating choices, some franchises, and more local people owning some of these franchises or original brands.

  2. Archie D Brown said, on January 6, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    I appreciate your comments regarding the city’s direction to attract more upscale residents living in the downtown and I am aware of some of the various plans to build lofts adjacent to the civic center, the artist and station districts. The interesting dilemma that these new urban dwellers face is that it takes a lot more of them than a few thousand before they will see retail options that cater specifically to their income brackets. Within development circles there is the debate whether you can put in a retail component to attract a residential component or does the residential component come first. From what I witnessed, it always seems to be the later.

    As far as my comment regarding Walmart, I did not mean to imply that they could be a solution for DTSA. I was merely making the point that LB officials had reevaluated their lofty expectations to something more realistic. I would agree with your assessment that the downtown is not a very feasible location for WalMart with their current lineup of retail concepts. The one other obstacle that Long Beach had to overcome was a history where retail lacked success in the downtown area. Although this probably is not the case on Fourth Street, I would still emphasize that Santa Ana is better off with retail options that primarily target the needs and desires of its citizens rather than those who live outside the city at this particular time.

    Like you and many others, I hope the downtown and the city will continue to improve. Santa Ana is a city of great history, great character and great people. I will attempt to do what I can to make it a community that reaches it full potential.

  3. Archie D Brown said, on January 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    BTW – I forgot to mention that you had great suggestion regarding that 2nd Ward Councilperson should be out networking with the business community to understand what are their requirements for investing in a particular location. Even if she is educated as to why they would not invest in a location like DTSA, that would be valuable information. If you know someone who is close to her, you should have them pass on that suggestion.


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