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Why Go Downtown? Residents, Visitors Weigh In

This is an expanded version of a news story that ran in The Lookout on November 2.

By Jorge Casuso

November 20 -- Most Santa Monicans visit Downtown, including the Third Street Promenade, at least once a week and, along with regional and foreign visitors, they’re keeping the Bayside economy humming, according to a survey released last month.

The survey found that Santa Monica area residents go Downtown because it’s nearby and offers a wide array of stores and services. Visitors from outside the area are also lured by the shopping opportunities, but come primarily for the beaches and outdoor atmosphere.

More visitors – from both Santa Monica and beyond – are coming to dine, while fewer are coming for the movies.

The survey – which polled 400 Santa Monica area residents by phone and 423 visitors in an “intercept survey” on Downtown streets – also highlights issues, such as the homeless, parking and maintenance, that are high on the list of concerns for Bayside District officials.

The findings are consistent with those of surveys conducted in 1997 and 2003, Bayside, officials note, adding that although the percentages reflected by the responses may be down in some cases, the number of visitors has risen.

“The survey shows we have a wide range of users coming for a wide range of offerings,” said John Warfel, vice chair of the Bayside Board. “It also shows that a majority of Santa Monicans visit the Downtown on a regular basis, and they have the same concerns they had in the past.”

The notion that locals don’t go Downtown “Anecdotally, we hear that no one comes to the Promenade anymore that lives in Santa Monica,” said Bayside Board member Patricia Hoffman. “That’s not true. The survey shows that it is a real downtown for the people of Santa Monica.”

The survey, which was commissioned by the Bayside District, found that 82 percent of those who live in the area (two-thirds of them in Santa Monica) had gone Downtown in the 30 days prior to the survey, averaging more than one-and-a-half trips a week.

And nearly all of the area residents surveyed – 97 percent – had visited the Downtown in the year prior to the survey, which was conducted in September and October by CIC Research, Inc., a San Diego- based consulting firm .

“Just about everyone has come about once a week.,” said Warfel when the findings were presented at a Bayside Board meeting October 26. “It’s hard to believe almost.”

More than half (51 percent) of the area residents polled visited the Downtown to shop, up from 38 percent in 1997 and 48 percent in 2003, according to the phone survey.

That compares with 37 percent of those polled in the intercept survey, 37 percent of whom lived or worked in Los Angeles County, 25 percent outside the county and 16 percent in foreign countries.

Dining lured 15 percent of the area residents, mirroring 1997 and 2003 trends, while 24 percent of those surveyed on the street said the “main purpose” of their visit was eating out, up from 7 percent three years ago.

Of the area residents polled by phone, 11 percent went Downtown for personal or business reasons or to run errands, while 17 percent of those who responded to the intercept survey said they went Downtown to socialize.

Perhaps most striking, only 10 percent of area residents went Downtown to catch a movie, down from 17 percent in 2003 and 31 percent in 1997. The downward trend was also reflected in the intercept survey, with only 8 percent citing the movies as the main purpose of their visit, down from 22 percent in 2003.

The drop is due to a wider array of offerings and increased competition from state-of-the-art theaters opening in surrounding communities, said Robert O. York, a consultant to the Bayside.

“The movies were a much more significant part of the offerings many years ago,” he said. “The Downtown wasn’t as fully developed.
“We have a more balanced offering now,” York added.

“The theaters are not as compelling. People coming for the movies are probably coming from a smaller geographical area.”

Sixty-one percent of the area residents surveyed said they visited Downtown Santa Monica rather than somewhere else, because they live nearby, while 8 percent said they worked nearby.

The “variety/quality” of the stores and services were the main reason 37 percent of area residents said they visited the Downtown, while 12 percent said it was entertaining with “lots to do,” and 11 percent said they came for the “nice/pleasant atmosphere.”

A little more than a third of the visitors polled on the street said they “choose to shop in Downtown Santa Monica rather than somewhere else,” because the area is close to the “beach/ocean.” A little less than a third (32 percent) said they did so because it is “open/ outdoors.”

“These reasons were given by significantly more visitors in 2006 than in previous studies,” according to the report’s authors.

Nearly three quarters, 73 percent, of area residents who had visited the Downtown in the past 30 days said they went to a store that sold clothing, shoes or accessories; 70 percent visited bookstores, 64 percent frequented a restaurant that sold only food, while 60 percent went to a restaurant that served both food and drinks.

Most area residents also visited a business that featured “entertainment/theater” (62 percent) “food stores/delis/specialty” businesses (56 percent), and stores that featured “housewares/ accessories” (50 percent).

“They’re visiting for a big variety” of stores, said Pamela Jaffe, of CIC Research. “They’re coming to eat and drink, as well as for the entertainment.”

Most of those who responded to the intercept survey (76 percent) also said they visited shops featuring “clothing/shoes/accessories” in the past 30 days.

That was followed by “eating and drinking places” (74 percent), “entertainment/theater” (57 percent), eating places (57 percent), bookstores (49 percent) and “food stores/deli’s/specialty” stores (44 percent).

Nearly two-thirds of the visitors polled in the intercept survey spent more than $51, with the average visitor spending $86. That compares to 41 percent of the area residents who spent more than $51, with an average shopper spending $43.

Both area residents and outside visitors continue to rely on the car to get Downtown.

Nearly three quarters of the area residents (74 percent) drove Downtown, down from 81 percent in 2003. More of them (16 percent) walked, up from 11 percent three years ago, according to the survey.

Of those polled in the intercept survey, 69 percent drove, down from 79 percent in 2003, while 23 percent walked, up from 10 percent three years ago, which is likely a result of more visitors staying in hotels, researchers said. Those who took public transit dropped to 3 percent, from 14 percent in 1997.

The survey results also reflect problems Bayside officials have been grappling with as they reevaluate the state of the area and chart a future course that could require changes in the district’s management structure and new assessments to address the most pressing problems.

“The top issues have been consistent for many, many years,” York said. “I think that helps make sure that people stay on focus.”

When asked what needs to be changed, 28 percent of area residents said there should be something done about the homeless, while 17 percent wanted “more/better” parking, 13 percent wanted “better/ different” stores and 12 percent cited “traffic flow/congestion” as issues that needed to be addressed.

When asked what they liked least about the area, 25 percent of those surveyed Downtown said the homeless, up from 23 percent three years ago; 20 percent cited parking, down from 25 percent, while 15 percent said “traffic, the same as three years ago.

Fifteen percent said the area was “crowded/congested,” up from 13 percent in 2003. “The focus on the homeless in the past two years really shows,” Hoffman said.

“It sure seems the same things are popping up again,” said Bayside Board Chair Bill Tucker. “We know the homeless is a big issue and parking is a big issue. We’re always looking at ways of improving.

“It’s good to take a snapshot at where we are today,” said Tucker, “but we’ve got to do something about it, which we think we’re doing.”

“I was pleased by how much the survey results mirrored what Bayside is trying to focus on,” said Bayside Board member Kelley Wallace.” It justifies the direction we’re taking.”




"Santa Monicans visit the Downtown on a regular basis, and they have the same concerns they had in the past.” John Warfel


“The focus on the homeless in the past two years really shows.” Patricia Hoffman said.


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