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Survey Finds Downtown Santa Monica Balances Needs of Residents, Visitors

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jorge Casuso

March 11, 2014 -- Downtown Santa Monica has become an internationally renowned visitor destination, but it remains the place where locals choose to work, play, dine and run errands.

In fact, nearly three quarters of Santa Monica residents are “frequent visitors” to Downtown, frequenting the area at least once a month. Those who visited at least once in the past year averaged 70 annual trips, compared to 47 when the survey was last conducted two years before.

Those are among the key findings of a survey of 410 Santa Monica residents conducted by telephone and 429 visitors from outside the city interviewed in the Downtown area, including Santa Monica Place, in October and November 2013.
“This is really the people’s Downtown,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc (DTSM). “People love it and really use it.”

Frequent visitors -- those who visited at least once in the month previous to the survey (72 percent) -- came Downtown for the same reasons they cited in 2011, with proximity (59.7 percent) topping the list, followed by the variety and quality of stores, services and the Farmers Market (40.3 percent).

The main reason frequent visitors gave for liking Downtown was “atmosphere/ ambience,” which doubled from 10 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. Visitors from outside Santa Monica also said that “atmosphere/ambience” was what they liked most.

Other reasons frequent visitors cited for liking Downtown changed little since the 2011 survey. They included being “close to home” (19.2 percent), having a “variety of stores” (17.1 percent), being “centralized/walkable” (13.9 percent) and offering a “variety of things to do” (11.0 percent).

“Downtown’s goal is to embrace the residents of Santa Monica,” said Robert York, a consultant to DTSM. “It’s a place where you can take care of your daily needs and engage in social and cultural activities.”

Significantly, the number of frequent visitors who came Downtown because they worked nearby more than doubled, from 5 percent two years ago to 11 percent, according to the survey conducted by CIC Research.

Downtown officials attribute the rise to a housing boom that has created a sense of neighborhood. “More people are living and working in the same place,” Rawson said, “and that’s great. It’s a goal every city and neighborhood aspires to.”

Still, there is room for improvement, Downtown officials said. When asked what they disliked about Downtown, parking remained a top concern, although frequent visitors mentioned “improved public transportation” as a reason to leave their cars behind.

Most visitors -- whether they are Santa Monica residents or live outside the area -- said they drive Downtown, and the number that said the cost of parking was higher than in other areas rose significantly over the past two years.

But aside from traffic, parking and the homeless -- longstanding issues that are being addressed -- there was little that Downtown visitors didn’t like. Locals who are frequent visitors to the area listed “nothing,” while visitors from outside Santa Monica cited “crowds.” Both answers, Downtown officials say, is an indication of the success of the area.
Both residents and visitors noted an improvement in the area -- citing cleaner streets, the presence of Ambassadors and the variety of shopping options. The number of residents who noticed it was cleaner rose from 41 percent in 2011 to 51 percent, while those who noticed that streets, sidewalks, lights and signs had been fixed rose significantly.
Downtown officials say the continued improvement is a testament to the success of the assessment district approved by the City Council and property owners in 2008 that bankrolls the Ambassador and Enhanced Maintenance Programs.

“Downtown property owners and the City made a major commitment, and it’s had a noticeable impact,” York said. “It’s a process of continuous improvement. We’re operating at a very high level.”

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