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    Street Closure Idea Debated

    By Alex Wilson, Daily Nexus Staff Writer, November 25, 1992

    The debate over whether parts of State Street should be converted into a pedestrian mall continued at a meeting Monday [11/23/1992], where opponents of closing the street to auto traffic said the plan would ruin downtown businesses.

    At a meeting hosted by the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, Mayor Sheila Lodge and many other prominent local figures discussed possibilities for making State Street more economically prosperous and inviting to visitors. Sentiment against closing the street ran high at the meeting, held at the Santa Barbara Art Museum.

    “State Street is operating at about 60% of what it could be.”

    Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces

    Lodge set off a firestorm of protest from local merchants recently when she suggested that closing State Street to traffic would bring more visitors to the downtown area.

    The SBDO hired the International Downtown Association, which consults on such projects as downtown revitalizations, to evaluate State Street’s economic and tourist potential.

    Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces, said that State Street could be more effectively used if it were closed to traffic. “We study the micro-behavioral level of public spaces,” he said. “State Street is operating at about 60% of what it could be.”

    Renowned architect Barry Burke also spoke in favor of getting cars off State Street. “We want State Street to become a pedestrian village,” he said.

    After the presentation by the IDA, the meeting broke into small groups where participants were encouraged to think of ways to get more people downtown. Although it was the street closure proposal that crystallized opinion, participants expressed many ideas for ways to increase commerce short of closing State Street.

    Proposals included hosting more family oriented activities, creating a more diverse variety of businesses and the legalization of sidewalk cafes. The periodic closing of State Street for events such as street fairs and the Farmers’ Market was welcomed by some merchants who feel such events bring life to downtown.

    But most State Street merchants were vehemently opposed to the permanent closure of State Street.

    Local businessman Bruce Rittenhouse felt that bringing in outsiders to make recommendations for Santa Barbara is an insult to local planners.

    “Santa Barbara has always been a special place and when people compare us to Riverside and Fresno and Corpus Christi, Texas, we’re special on our own. I don’t know how long those people spent in this town, but if they couldn’t find public art, or they didn’t find a friendly community, then they didn’t look real hard,” he said.

    Rittenhouse was opposed to closing State Street permanently in light of the changes the area has gone through in recent years due to the opening of the Paseo Nuevo mall, the Painted Cave fire and the recession.

    “Everyone in my group, with the exception of one person, thought that the idea of closing the main artery that we just spent a half a million dollars to put a bridge in to go under the freeway to get over here is a bit silly,” he said.

    Mayor Lodge attempted to distance herself from her proposal after sensing the strong opposition from the business community.

    “The word got out that I wanted to close State Street and the last I heard was that I wanted to close seven blocks of State Street permanently, which I never ever suggested. I was interested in experimenting with one or two blocks at most and I was interested in bringing people downtown,” she said.

    “Santa Monica has been very successful with theirs [the pedestrian Third Street Promenade] and there’s places where it’s never worked and I recognize that. My goal is the same as yours I believe,” she said.

    The mayor also recognized that the creation of a pedestrian mall might prove fiscally impossible in the current economic climate, pointing to cities which have created similar projects. “Each of them as I recall spends $500,000 a year. That’s what it takes and I don’t know where it’s going to come from,” she said.

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