Jose Paul Corona For years Huntington Beach...

Jose Paul Corona

For years Huntington Beach has slowly tried to change its image.

City leaders, developers and business owners have worked

diligently to throw off the grungy, riotous surf town image to make

Surf City a tourist destination. The once run-down Main Street has

been revitalized and reborn. And while some lament the changes, it is

a trend that has spread throughout the city.

At the East end of town, the decrepit Huntington Center, which has

laid nearly vacant for years, is going through a major renovation. By

next year Huntington Center Mall will be a memory -- and in its

place, Bella Terra. The Italian-style shopping plaza with beautiful

architecture, an outdoor amphitheater, upscale shops and a 20-screen

movie theater will replace it.

Over in the Harbour, the old but highly used Huntington Harbour

Mall is currently getting a face-lift. The plaza, with a Ralphs on

one end and the popular House of Brews bar and restaurant on the

other, is getting an entirely new facade for its functional interior.

Smaller shopping centers all over the city are also trying to

reinvent themselves.

The Seacliff Village Shopping Center, at the corner of Main Street

and Yorktown Avenue, took more than two years to complete, but now is

a hub of activity supporting many new businesses. It was completely

torn down and rebuilt and it counts Albertson's, Staples and

Blockbuster Video among it's tenants.

The 40-year-old Five Points Plaza near Beach Boulevard and Ellis

Avenue is also getting a new look.

Trader Joe's recently tore down and rebuilt it's entry way and

increased its interior space in order to accommodate the growth in

customer's visiting the store. Some customers say it's almost too

up-to-date now with fancy computers and automatic doors.

The renovations have brought new tenants in, such as an Omaha

Steak store and there are plans to open a ticket broker office, said

Five Points Plaza Site Manager Maureen Sloan James.

The amount of foot traffic through the plaza is just amazing,

Sloan added.

"You don't see all the traffic, but the people are there," she

said, "When you see the sales reports you realize how busy is busy."

The renovations at Five Points Plaza were made in response to the

constant change and growth in the city. The opening of the Hyatt will

bring more customers to the city, and businesses in the center don't

want to be left out, she added.

Warner-Dale Square, a shopping center at the intersection of

Warner Avenue and Springdale Street has also joined the renovation

trend.

But this move toward revitalization is more than a construction or

reconstruction trend. In the southeast section of town, city

officials have formed a redevelopment agency to help turn the area

around while cleaning up one of Southern California's most

contaminated landfills.

It goes beyond simply getting more people to the city every year,

said David Biggs, director of economic development for the city.

"The city needs to diversify its tax base," he said, "Not only to

generate revenue, but to provide local employment and to find ways to

pay for services that our residents want."

To provide revenue for things, such as the new Sports Complex, and

to maintain the programs in jeopardy with current budget constraints,

city officials are taking steps to make Surf City a travel

destination.

"Tourism is a great economic generator," Biggs said.

The revitalization plan isn't something that city officials took

on yesterday, it's been going on for more than a decade and anyone

familiar with the city has seen the change occurring, especially in

the Downtown area.

Main Street is now full of upscale restaurants, which are all

competing for customers.

The Strand project, a commercial venture slated for the first

couple blocks of Downtown, bound by Main Street, Pacific Coast

Highway and Walnut and 5th avenues would bring stores, offices, more

restaurants and a 149-room hotel to the area.

By leaving the city to shop, and taking their business elsewhere,

Huntington Beach residents are adversely impacting the city, said

Joyce Riddell, president of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce.

One cent of every dollar spent in the city comes back to the city

in the form of sales tax, and while that may not seem like a lot, it

adds up, Riddell said.

By creating more opportunities for residents to stay in Surf City

and spend their money in the city, everyone will benefit, Riddell

said.

One of the biggest and most visible projects in the city is the

construction of the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach on Pacific Coast

Highway.

Construction of the resort and spa has generated a great deal of

attention. While it will be a boon financially for the city, it is

not a favorite among all residents and has certainly changed the

landscape along the coast.

Another huge center slated for the area is Pacific City, a large

hotel, shopping, dining and entertainment venue slated to be built on

the long-vacant 31-acres in between Huntington and 1st streets.

With ritzy condominiums behind it, it will also bring more

business Downtown.

Doug Traub, president of the Huntington Beach Conference and

Visitors Bureau, is happy with the city's efforts to change its

image. "If you go outside of Southern California, Huntington Beach is

not as well known as it should be," Traub said.

That is likely to change, he said.

* JOSE PAUL CORONA covers City Hall and education. He can be

reached at (714) 965-7173 or by e-mail at jose.corona@latimes.com.

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