Many clicks, One Laguna

Anybody stepping into One Laguna should feel, well, connected.

Exposed brick and hardwood interiors, outfitted with surfboards, art, motor suits and other memorabilia, are juxtaposed with 17 touch screens of different sizes. Details and images of Laguna Beach's recreational offerings lie at a visitor's fingertips.

One Laguna functions as a digital visitors bureau in a 5,000-square-foot building owned by Firebrand Media LLC to show off all that the city has to offer. It includes a radio station owned by Firebrand and shares space with the Laguna College of Art + Design's gallery, called LCAD on Forest.

"It's a service for visitors, locals and merchants to gain exposure on Forest Avenue," said Scott Sanchez, chief technology officer and publisher of Firebrand. "We wanted to create a dynamic, interactive media space that people could come to and find information about places to go, things to do and places to eat, shop and play in the city."

The brainchild of Allan Simon, the company’s chairman, One Laguna debuted in mid-February and attracted nearly 500 attendees during a grand opening March 5. Its location — a stone's throw from the beach and on what Sanchez considers the oceanfront town's most coveted street — is its greatest asset.

While two coffee tables inlaid with screens offer videos, entertainment and current and historical photographs of the area, visitors can also access six tablets with high-tech directories replete with more than 800 listings. Nearby, two 84-inch, ultra-high-definition monitors have been combined to create a 12.5-foot interactive 4K screen called the Wonder Wall.

Other popular features include the Social Wall, which integrates live feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere in the social media stratosphere, and Wish You Were Here, an interactive photo booth with which users can personalize postcards, email their creations to their phones and make printouts.

"We built it as a place to discover and explore things in Laguna," said Sanchez, deeming it a "one-stop shop."

LCAD on Forest is partially underwritten, said gallery Director Andrea Harris-McGee, adding that the arrangement might be modified to a complete donation in a few months. But that's not the only change on the horizon.

Currently, artwork by the educational institution's faculty, alumni, students and department chairs is displayed in four-week increments in two galleries — front and rear — totaling about 1,200 square feet. This will soon be reduced to 450 square feet — the size of only the back space — and One Laguna will utilize the remaining area to duplicate the upper level.

It's confusing, Harris-McGee remarked, for people to enter and first see a gallery and then climb a staircase into a heavily technical space.

"It will be more integrated and flow together so people can have both experiences seamlessly," she said.

Although committed to the best interests of the project, Harris-McGee said, the LCAD team is on the lookout for alternative spaces to host exhibitions. Currently, a 45-piece multimedia exhibition based on the gaming industry titled "Realms Beyond Reality" can be viewed along with "Realism Without Borders," which is made up of 18 paintings.

The property at 225 Forest Ave. tends to attract the heaviest foot traffic on the weekends. Visitors often return accompanied by friends and family, Sanchez noted.

Many call LCAD on Forest a "lovefest," according to Harris-McGee, while others say "About time" or "This is what Laguna is about" upon entering.

"A large number of our students are contributors to the community — they live and work here," she said. "We are very well respected in the visual arts and now have a downtown space in an arts colony, which is long overdue."

Tourists, many of whom flock to Orange County from foreign countries, are also prompted to visit the LCAD campus for a tour of its facilities. With nearly 100 people passing through LCAD on Forest's doors each day — attendance is between 300 and 350 and even more during opening receptions — Harris-McGee believes that the space has led to increased exposure.

Tyler Russell, founder and program director of KX 93.5 FM, operates One Laguna's state-of-the-art online stream, KX @ One Laguna. He believes that the digital community center can benefit Laguna Beach residents as much as it aids those unfamiliar with the locality. One Laguna can educate them about parts of their hometown that they might not have frequented or even heard of.

"Since we started KX 93.5, people have been asking us, 'Are you going to have more news programs or political talks or syndicate NPR?'" he said. "But that's not what we're in it for. We're in it for the music and to expose local artists and unsigned musicians. Now, we are tapping into more global topics — it's more sophisticated radio listening."

Also, by creating a profile on an app called Perfect Laguna, people can browse categories, look at images and create itineraries. They can also avail themselves of discounts and giveaways featured at the city's stores and restaurants.

Along with taking part in hosts' discussions of issues like health, medicine, yoga and politics, One Laguna visitors can use two Mapping Tables to track newly unveiled real estate options — alerts for houses on sale and upcoming open houses. Vacation and rental components will be added to the lineup next, Sanchez noted. With the carefully curated technological content being updated on a consistent basis, a natural extension of the space will be to host music, art and other similar types of shows.

"The best way to understand it is to experience it," Sanchez remarked.

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