Groundbreaking held for project to revitalize Paseo Nuevo
You can’t get too much of a good thing.
At least that’s what the city of Santa Barbara and Paseo Nuevo developers are banking on — sinking millions of dollars into a face lift for the shopping center that will not only take care of the needs of locals, but will continue to be a sought-after stop for the 7.2 million tourists that the city hosts each year.
On Tuesday morning a bevy of local and Paseo Nuevo officials publicly revealed their plans for the Paseo Nuevo revitalization project — approved by the City Council in February — and officially kick-started the project with a ceremonial groundbreaking.
“Paseo Nuevo is the heartbeat of this city,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo. “People come here to hang out, shop, to shop, to buy gifts. (The project) is part of making retail work.
“Retail is changing, but it’s not entirely dead. It’s adapting to the new shopping trends. This is part of it. People want to go to a place that feels like a community center. That’s what this is.”
The multi-million dollar Paseo Nuevo project is a part of an overarching commitment from the city to look into innovative ways to rethink downtown, looking to not only boost the local economy, but also bring the community together by providing experiential options all around the city.
“We need to get out of our houses, to open air,” Ms. Murillo said. “This is a great place to connect with your neighbors.”
Foot traffic continues to be strong at Paseo Nuevo, with more than 5 million visitors per year generating more than $100 million in sales. Paseo Nuevo represents nearly one-third of the retail square footage in the city, according to Steve Plenge, managing partner of Pacific Retail Capital Partners.
“We think we will be able to substantially increase sales for the overall property, which will translate into further sales tax dollars for the city as well,” Mr. Plenge said.
The project will have two phases, with the first focusing mainly on creating common areas for people to interact, as well as improved LED lighting and new Spanish tiles throughout the mall. The Ortega building on the corner of State and Ortega streets — formerly home to Macy’s — will be addressed during the second phase.
Both phases of the renovation were unanimously green-lit by the council, but it also is just one of many projects that officials hope will coincide, mainly the ongoing discussion and research being put into De la Guerra Plaza.
“This is the perfect opportunity. We’ve been talking about revitalization in downtown for a long time,” said Carrie Kelly, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara Organization Inc.
“(Paseo Nuevo) plus talks of (De la Guerra) Plaza, with maybe moving farmer’s market there. This very well could be a great transformation.”
Former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin was a City Council member when Paseo Nuevo was first developed, and is proud that the original intent of the open-air mall has seen overwhelming success.
“The great thing we can see from this perspective, we believed it was possible to create an economic magnet in the middle of town, and it’d have a spillover up and down the street,” said Mr. Conklin, who served on the City Council from 1977 to 1993 and was mayor from 1993 to 1994.
“Today you can see that it actually worked,” he said.
But Mr. Conklin also knows that Santa Barbara rarely rests on its laurels, often reinventing itself in order to stay relevant, helping the city fiscally as well as providing the community with constant improvement.
“In the ’60s, they asked, ‘What happened to what we did 25 years ago?’ and then in the ’90s, we asked again, ‘What happened to what we did 25 years ago?’ And, now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are looking back and saying, ‘What did we do in 1989?’ ” Mr. Conklin explained.
“Thirty years is about the shelf life of any downtown project,” he said. “To me, it’s exciting to see the whole street being talked about, what we can do to bring back things back. (Paseo Nuevo) is the center and heartbeat of State Street, where everyone goes. Everything centers from here out.
“To me this is both historic and looking into the future.”