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Construction Criticism

By Ed Moosbrugger

"Construction” has become a dirty word on the streets of Downtown Santa Monica as business people and their customers try to cope with detours, “no turn” signs and disrupted bus routes due to road work.

“It’s such a pain to drive down Fourth Street,” said Sameer Jooma, owner of the Giorgio Vasari men’s designer clothing store on the Third Street Promenade. That situation has affected business, he said.

Merchants seem particularly upset about the “no turn” signs that send drivers a few blocks out of their way to get where they want to go.

“They have shut down so many left and right turns,” said Naren Patel, owner of two Shiva Imports stores on the Promenade and 4th Street. While business is fine at his Promenade store, the traffic disruptions have hurt the 4th Street store, he reported.

“There’s no access to my store (on 4th Street),” Patel said in mid-March. Compounding the problem, he said, is the fact that one law enforcement person has prevented customers from loading purchases into their cars in the alley behind the store.

“Where are we supposed to do our business?” he asked. “I don’t know.”
Merchants have reason to complain because it is clear that the prolonged street work is turning off some customers.

One couple said they drove Downtown intending to attend a movie but became so discouraged by the street detours that they just gave up and drove home. Another customer of a Downtown business said he usually avoids the area now because it is such a hassle.

“This construction has caused so much damage to businesses,” said Peter Katsikides, owner of Peter’s Barber Shop on 4th Street. He estimated his business is down at least 40 percent.

Some merchants wonder why work on 4th Street is taking so long, while work on Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway seemed to move along faster. And they don’t think the City is doing much to help the merchants’ situation.

But all is not gloom over the street and sidewalk work. “Hopefully, all the construction will pay off,” Jooma said. He likes the new look, including street furniture, on the sidewalks on Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway.

“It’s nice to have something fresh,” Jooma said, emphasizing the importance of “looking at the big picture.”

Merchants also expressed other concerns, including the loss of restaurants on the Promenade and problems caused by some transients.

There are, however, some positive signs. Jooma said business has picked up recently, and he’s seeing more tourists after the slowdown following the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

“They are spending again,” the clothing merchant reported.

Another Promenade apparel merchant said he is “still happy” with his store, noting that the Promenade remains packed on weekends, although he doesn’t think there are as many people during the week.

ATTENDANCE at this year’s American Film Market trade show fell by 6 percent to 6,714, with the number of registered buyers dropping to 1,327 from 1,447 last year.

The AFM, which is Santa Monica’s biggest single piece of convention business, did lure a record number of exhibitors, with 338 companies selling films compared with 332 a year ago.

While attendance was down, AFM continued to be an important event for Downtown businesses.

“AFM helped us,” said Jooma of Giorgio Vasari. He attracted business by leaving promotional materials at the AFM information desk at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, offering a 10 percent discount and free delivery and alterations.

HOTEL OCCUPANCY was the worst in many years in Santa Monica during 2001 but showed signs of leveling off in the final month of the year, as hotels cut rates sharply to maintain business.

For all of 2001, the hotel occupancy rate fell to 69.5 percent, down 10.8 percent from the prior year. It wasn’t too long ago that Santa Monica enjoyed annual occupancy rates of more than 80 percent.

The average room rate in Santa Monica dipped 1 percent to $200.56 in 2001, according to a report from PKF Consulting and the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In December, the hotel occupancy rate edged up 1 percent from the prior December to 59.2 percent, but the average room rate plunged 18 percent to $164.70.

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