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Redevelopment Closes In on Main Street

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the 500 block of Main Street--from the vacant pink County Stationer store down to the sprawling Sav-Mor--appear the first physical signs of one of the most ambitious projects in Ventura’s downtown redevelopment history.

A going-out-of-business sign scrawled in black hangs in the glass door of Sav-Mor. An orange neon banner screams “Liquidating Sale” over the playfully painted, now vacant storefront that used to be Cosmos Cotillion clothing shop. And the County Stationer store continues to sit empty and boarded up.

But by late summer, wrecking balls and construction crews will arrive to tear down the old buildings and make way for a 10-screen multiplex movie theater, with 14,000 feet of retail space.

The theater is one of Ventura’s most prominent redevelopment projects--what city officials hope will be a focal point for a downtown renaissance--but it is only one of dozens of redevelopment projects undertaken in the city during the last 30 years.

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On Monday, the City Council will hold a study session to take stock of the city’s redevelopment efforts--and decide how to proceed.

“This allows us to step back and look at what redevelopment has accomplished,” said Tom Figg, the city’s planning and redevelopment manager.

The pace of change may be too slow for some residents, and too fast for others, but Figg says Ventura has witnessed dramatic improvements as a result of redevelopment.

Take property values. On Monday, Figg will present data to document that property valuations in the downtown redevelopment area have risen more than four times as fast as other parts of the city.

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During the last six years, property values in the downtown redevelopment district rose 47%; increases in property valuations in the city’s three redevelopment districts averaged 30%. These compare to citywide property values that increased an average of only 9%, Figg said.

Redevelopment is a process to help city and county governments revitalize city areas that face deteriorating social, physical, environmental or economic conditions that discourage new investment.

In most cities, including Ventura, city council members are also the governing board for the redevelopment agency, although they remain separate legal entities.

Ventura currently has three redevelopment districts.

The Beachfront Redevelopment Project was first adopted in 1966, and is bounded on the north by the Ventura Freeway, on the south by the beachfront, on the east by Ventura Pier, and on the west by Figueroa Street.

Another is the Mission Plaza Project area, adopted in 1972, which is bounded on the north by Poli Street, on the south by Santa Clara Street, on the east by Figueroa Street, and on the west by Ventura Avenue.

The most recent and largest of the projects is the Downtown Redevelopment Project, first adopted in 1978, and most recently expanded in 1995. It is bounded on the north by Poli Street, on the south by Harbor Boulevard, on the east by Ash Street and on the west by Highway 33.

In order to funnel funds into redevelopment areas, the city retains slightly more than 1% of property taxes within the boundaries of the district and channels it back into the area.

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But the redevelopment areas have a limited life span, and some will end soon.

Figg said that one focus of Monday’s meeting will be to encourage the council to consider merging the three redevelopment areas into one.

Such a move would increase the debt capacity of the areas and help the beachfront and the mission, which may not be able to repay their debt by the time their limit expires.

The beachfront project area expires Feb. 7, 2006. The mission project area expires Dec. 18.

Meanwhile, the city continues to work on several major projects downtown, including the theater, the parking structure on the corner of California and Santa Clara streets, renovation of the historic Peirano grocery, and integration of more housing downtown.

The city is still negotiating with property owners and tenants on the soon-to-be demolished 500 block.

“We’re just waiting,” said Jetta Commins, who works at Sav-Mor, which plans to transfer its merchandise to a new store in Oxnard and has already moved most of the staff. The store is marking down racks of discount clothing and closing out merchandise.

Crafter’s Showcase faces a more uncertain future.

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“We want to stay downtown, but there’s not anything available that is the right size that we can afford,” said Anne Eberly, who works at the Crafter’s Showcase at 573 E. Main St. “They want to make this historic downtown, but they’re tearing down all the old buildings.”

Construction on the parking structure is scheduled to begin in March, and ground will be broken for the theater in August.

Monday’s meeting will be the first of two sessions; in the second meeting several weeks later, the council will consider budgetary aspects of redevelopment.


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