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Struggling Santa Barbara downtown economy a top target for City Council

Efforts to revert the Santa Barbara downtown economy from a troublesome spiral will be laid out, at least with a real time update, Tuesday.

The City Council at the request of Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse, a local restaurant owner, have asked the staff for an update on steps to help revitalize the business corridor on State Street and other business zones that are slumping.

It’s clear the target is the first 13 blocks of State Street where there’s been a dynamic shift in occupancy in the last few years. Commercial realtors say about 30 addresses are available, and they include sites with very large square footage footprints.

That list has the former site of Macy’s department store, Tonic Nightclub, Staples, Aaron Brothers, Verizon, Blush, Panera Bread, and Wolf’s head clothing. All have gone dark.

There are some new tenants that are now back filling including Creamistry, Due Lune and Finney’s restaurants, McConnell’s Ice Cream (lower State Street) and soon, two more wine tasting rooms , five breweries and a home furnishings store.

This fall World of Magic will have its Halloween store downtown in the vacant Macy’s and that will be followed at the same site with a holiday gift and boutique business through early January. A longer term plan there has not been announced.

Also up in the air is the future of the Saks OFF 5th store which is reportedly on a short remaining lease through next Spring.

The meeting Tuesday at the City Council session will cover programs, policies, community activities related to downtown economic vitality, and consider scheduling a community workshop, according to a staff report.

The council will also talk about downtown infrastructure, public safety, business retention and commercial property vacancies, transportation and parking, marketing and promotion, arts and culture activities, planning and permitting, housing opportunities, and management and oversight of downtown issues.

The report is expected to identify quick fix solutions including pop up stores, and fast track permitting.

Some business owners and realtors have said city officials efforts to improve the development climate on the street has not resulted in any real encouraging signs and red tape issues are still blocking inspections and permits.

Each site comes with a different story but there have been many direct emails and face to face meetings between business investors and the city on this topic prior to this Tuesday’s city session.

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