By Dominic Tartaglia, Executive Director
A question I’m often asked is, “What makes a downtown economically vibrant?” This question stems from our Mission Statement at the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, which clearly defines our mission to “Foster an
Economically Vibrant Downtown.” In reality, there are a lot of different variables that factor into a healthy downtown economy that range from small things like picking stickers off of signposts to much bigger things like responsible urban development.
With responsible development a community can benefit from a shot in the arm both culturally as well as economically. If we look at the Chinatown project, we see a block which has long been in need of thoughtful redevelopment incorporating historical preservation and the current needs of our Downtown into a project that will invigorate the surrounding blocks. The project will include residential housing, office space, retail space and dining opportunities for the public. Meanwhile, the infill process will turn what was formerly surface lot parking into a space that is more desirable from a land use standpoint. The desired outcome is an ecodense project that serves multiple purposes and is utilized 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
Traditional developments in our Downtown have not been as versatile and their use has been limited to working hours. At closing time the buildings vacate and employees and customers go home, essentially leaving a shell of a building for the night. That is, unless there is a nightlife element that starts when the workday concludes. Several of the projects in development will engage the nightlife that will make Downtown a vibrant cultural and economic center for all 24 hours of the day. Whether people are paying rent for the place they call home or they are out enjoying a late night dinner, they are contributing to and participating in the nightlife of an economically vibrant Downtown.
At the Downtown Association we recognize that as our economy has changed over the years, we need to provide activities for guests beyond serving as a shopping district. November features three traditions that contribute to a vibrant Downtown. This month starts with the Veterans Day Celebration at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, which is followed by the Holiday Breakfast and concludes with Santa’s House Opening Day. We maintain these traditions in the name of preservation so our Downtown culture doesn’t subside into the suburbs as so many Main Streets across the country experienced in the middle of the last century. With events like Veterans Celebration at The Market on November 12th, the community has a reason to come together.
This November 20th will be my second year hosting the Holiday Breakfast and in the spirit of this article, the program largely consists of a developer forum. The forum will feature several of the developers with active projects Downtown and will conclude with a Q&A period for interested business owners. With so many developments currently underway, this occasion certainly warrants a chance to gather each developer and to learn about their projects and their impact in Downtown. The program is sure to provide insight into the way the projects will contribute to the future of our community. While guests are taking in this dose of information they will also get a hearty Downtown breakfast at Mother’s Tavern.
Traditionally, it is at this breakfast that we announce all of the holiday activities and officially kick off the holiday season in Downtown. For the last 40 years, the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association has produced the biggest holiday calendar of events in SLO County. That calendar always starts with the opening of Santa’s House in Mission Plaza the day after Thanksgiving and soon after the Classic Carousel accompanies the festivities. Over the years, thousands of children have visited the little red house to meet Santa Claus and his elves and this year we are serving up another portion of cheer with your Thanksgiving dinner… Rumor has it, Santa and his elves have been hard at work on his house in preparation for his big trip to Mission Plaza. It is going to look and sound better than ever. When visiting Santa, be sure to share your wish list with him before taking a walk around town and getting your holiday shopping done. Fitting enough, Santa’s house won’t be too far away from the Chinatown project, a perfect juxtaposition of a time-honored tradition, childhood whimsy and the new development of an ever-changing Downtown economy.