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Hermosa Civic Leaders Hope Study Will Spur Renewal : Redevelopment: Architects’ plan proposes strategy to rejuvenate downtown business district, including renovation of the aging pier.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hermosa Beach business and civic leaders are hoping a new study by a team of architects will help move the community toward approving long-delayed plans to revitalize the city’s ailing downtown district.

The study was conducted by the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, a nationally recognized group that has assisted in the revitalization of Atlantic City, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla., and Seattle.

The group’s 62-page study sets out a strategy for rejuvenating the city’s downtown business district, including the renovation of the aging Hermosa Beach pier. After a series of meetings last weekend, officials decided to move ahead with a design competition to renovate the pier.

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In a city where it took 13 ballot measures and nearly three decades to decide the fate of an abandoned beachfront hotel site, officials are hoping the design contest will create enough momentum to pull other improvements in its wake.

“I wanted to see something conspicuous that we can get done right away to show Hermosa that we can as a community work together,” said Hermosa Beach Mayor Robert Essertier. “It seems, like on so many issues, we are on gridlock. We really want to create some positive energy.”

Hermosa Beach architect Dean Nota, who helped recruit the urban design team, agrees.

“We hope by taking this approach, it will enable the community to move off dead center, especially on downtown,” he said. Nota hopes the competition will be completed within nine months.

Nota heads the newly formed Downtown Improvement Board, charged with the formidable task of overcoming the stalemate in implementing the aims of the urban design plan.

Sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, the seven-person volunteer design team spent four days last fall studying the city and holding meetings. The visit marked the first time the team has helped a city in Los Angeles County.

One of the pivotal issues facing the team was charting a course for the city’s troubled downtown, hurt initially by the proliferation of shopping malls and more recently by the recession. Surmounting parking problems and the city’s image as a party town will be the keys to reviving the area, the study said.

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“We used to be known as the place to have a good time and leave, and get a parking ticket,” Nota said. “We are still suffering from that, but, in reality, we’ve toned down quite a bit.”

Shaking the party image will enable downtown to attract new and more vibrant businesses, the study argued. And before it acquires any new, “alien” themes, the district should play up its historical image, according to the study.

The study also urged the city to cater less to the automobile and make the downtown area more accessible to pedestrians. To help accomplish this, it called for a one-way traffic lane on Pier Avenue, with angled parking west of Hermosa Avenue.

“What we really want to do is to have more storefronts and create more of a village atmosphere,” Nota said.

Another of the study’s suggestions is for parking in the city’s Greenbelt area. But even the mayor, who generally supports the study’s recommendations, took issue with the proposal.

Residents “didn’t buy this land for $7.5 million so they could provide parking for a lot of the bars,” he said.

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A more vocal critic is city Planning Commissioner Bob Marks, who rails against out-of-towners presuming to solve Hermosa’s problems in less than a week.

“The whole procedure was like seven cowboys coming into town for a weekend,” Marks said. “They tried to get a sense of the town without getting a sense of the people.”

But for now, most officials are content to address parking squabbles as they arise. And, they point out, the team’s recommendations are subject to revision.

Officials said one benefit of the study was to offer a look at the community through the eyes of outsiders.

“Sometimes when you are so close to something, you don’t see its special, unique qualities. Sometimes you forget,” said Carol Hunt, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “They gave us a renewed sense of pride here. There’s a lot of communities that would love to have what we call problems.”

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