10:20am | The other day I ran into our own Brian Ulaszewski, who guessed that the Bob Foster-sponsored red glowstick lanyard around my neck meant not that I'd just come from a mayoral rave, but from Long Beach's World AIDS Day rally at the Terrace Theater Plaza1. This led us into a conversation not about the event, but the place where it was held. And Brian's got a good idea for it.
You've passed by the plaza in question, yes? It's nice to look at and even nicer to walk through, because of both the topography and the refreshing feel generated by the water and its motion.
So what would happen if the space were utilized to entice people to come and stay for a while?
For example, how about putting a coffee kiosk (along with pastries, etc.) on one side and a wine kiosk on the other side? Or what about something more ambitious, like installing some simple kitchen facilities that a few quality restaurants could rent out on a long-term basis? Add some nice chairs and tables2 and the plaza becomes a space for congregation, for life, rather than the limited purpose it presently serves: as an entryway to the Performing Arts Center.
A nice entryway is all well and good, but when we think about better shaping downtown Long Beach as a vibrant urban center, does leaving such an asset to be no more than decoration (except to the skateboarders, who know how to get maximal use out of the cityscape) really help? Or might turning the southern endpoint of a major artery like Long Beach Blvd. where it intersects Ocean Blvd. into a hub of low-key activity produce a better impression of Long Beach as a bustling metropolis?
I wouldn't advocate doing something just for show. But this is the type of phenomenon where perception is, to a large extent, reality. The plaza is so centrally located and has such a high visibility quotient that it's a pretty safe bet that if you build it, they will come—a progression that will feed on itself when non-residents come to visit.
And hey, there's parking!
"That's a frigging good idea," I enthused after hearing him out. "You should write about it." Not surprisingly, he already had.
Taking Brian's advice would be a component in what probably is essential to Long Beach's taking major step forward: creating a downtown large and attractive enough to be a destination for people to visit without any particular plan in mind.
"Let's go to Hollywood," you would often hear around if you had a God's-ear point of, er, aural view—and "Let's just go downtown [meaning L.A., S.F., etc.]." But you'd have to strain your divine hearing a bit more to catch, "Let's go to Long Beach."
It's not because Long Beach isn't already a good destination. Although most people come only for specific events—Gay Pride, the Grand Prix, a specific concert or play—were Ian Inlandempirer to wander into the LBC sans plan, I.I. might very easily stumble across much that would make the trip worthwhile. Hell, there are even a few areas where lots to do conveniently hangs together: Belmont Shore, 4th Street's Retro Row, even Bixby Knolls now, etc. (you know: the usual suspects).
But there isn't an obvious center, that focal point so undeniable that when non-residents think "Long Beach" they tend to mean that, that place they can arrive with confidence that their desires for the day/evening will be satisfied3.
There is probably one, and only one, path to achieving this in Long Beach: for Pine Ave. and the East Village to metastasize together, and then for a viable corridor to extend over to Retro Row4. Get that to be a unified urban environment, and we're gold.
Some recent moves on 4th St. between Elm and Linden nudges us in that direction. Lyon Art Supply has relocated from 420 E. 4th St. across the street to 441, and now it's not only a good store but also a great space for events (e.g., last month's Lyons at Night, which you can read about here). And that move cleared the way for bitchen indie record store and more Fingerprints to emigrate from Belmont Shore to 420, where it will be not only a better performance venue than it was previously, but will also host a new Portfolio location. With a great restaurant, Zephyr, already established a block away (340 E. 4th St.), it's hard not to look hopefully down the chronological/developmental road.
Brian's idea for better utilizing the Terrace Theater Center would be yet another solid step on that journey.
1Or is it called the Performing Arts Center Plaza? I'm a little confused about the name.
2The tastefulness of both the food and the seating is important, as making the plaza a mini-mall or simple food court misses the mark and veers toward consumerist blight.
3Does that sound sexy? It is. A true downtown is a sexy thing.
4I'm leaving out southern Pine Ave. to the water because, some nice aspects notwithstanding, there's an obvious set of problems presented by the Pike, problems that would require a separate column to address.