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Making the Most Of 2010

Hello Enthusiasts –

Welcome back to life. Hope your first week back was energizing, and that you’re embracing the New Year.

I ended 2009 by talking about my “bests” and “favorites” of Downtown. So I figured I’d start 2010 by discussing what I’d like to see more (and a little less) of as we start the New Year. Downtown has come so far … but it also just reminds us of how much farther we can go!

I think 2010 is a critical year for Downtown. The last couple of years have seen Downtown crawling into adolescence. Loft buildings opened and we now have thousands of actual residents, who are building their very own sense of community. LA Live came online and Downtown has at least the potential for a central gathering point (sorry, Pershing Square). A slew of new restaurants and bars opened (and surprisingly few have closed), giving people so many more entertainment and nightlife options. And we’ve started to see more (but not enough) retail. In short, Downtown has buzz.

In 2010, we’re going to see more and more people who never thought they’d be caught dead down here finally making the trek to see what all the fuss is about – and it will be up to us to maintain and grow what we’ve begun to build here. Downtown has finally caught a wave – now, let’s get up on our boards and ride it.

So … to do that, these are my humble entries for what I’d like to see:

More (and better) Happy Hour Specials
Downtown has a few decent happy hours, but surprisingly few – and the ones that are halfway decent are packed. I’d like to see more restaurants offering legitimate drink specials, and decent menu options. Most will say they have a happy hour but too often, it’s a couple drinks you don’t like that much, and food of the “wings and rings” variety. Let’s step it up a notch, people.

More “Mid Priced” Restaurants
Downtown used to be much worse along this front – your choices used to be Carl’s Jr or Water Grill, with not much in the middle. Now, with Provecho, Casa, CorkBar, even Ciudad, and a few other, you can get served a nice meal without breaking the bank. But Downtown could use more of these – and more in the “lower middle” price point. Witness Wolfgang Puck’s, on 6th & Hope. You don’t even get served, but it’s good, somewhat unique food at a decent price, and it’s thronged every day.

More Neighborhood Serving Retail
Downtown now has a critical mass of residents. Ralphs took what they felt was a risk opening up a store Downtown, and it’s now one of the highest grossing outposts in their chain. But it’s still too difficult to fulfill basic needs Downtown. Try buying a tool or a last minute gift or books or music Downtown – it’s not impossible, but it’s tough. I bet a Target would kill down here.

Better Parking Options
Parking Downtown is haphazard at best. Too many surface lots and cramped garages. Downtown doesn’t have a single public, well lit garage that is easily accessible. I understand this is a tall order when owning a surface lot is practically a license to print money. But a fellow Enthusiast taught me that when you build quality parking near (but not connected to) retail and restaurant areas, people will feel like it’s more possible to visit there, and you’ll revitalize whole neighborhoods – witness 3rd St. Promenade or Old Town Pasadena. So, I dare to dream and hope we can see something like that here.

More “Destination” Marketing
ArtWalk is one of the more astounding success stories of Downtown in the last 10 years. Basically, they opened up a bunch of art galleries and told people to come down the first Thursday of every month to visit them. And now look – the arts district is a zoo every month, with people from all over LA County descending on Downtown. Why did it work? Because it exploited two things: something unique to Downtown (a critical mass of art galleries) and the fact that you don’t have to drive once you get here. Downtown has lots of things like that to exploit: a unique set of bars, a critical mass of restaurants, all the cultural venues, and now performance venues to boot. It would take a little cross-organizational cooperation, and much of that does happen, but I think it can get better still and you can draw even more people down here.

More “Bar and Restaurant” Live Entertainment
Nothing brings people out for special occasion nights like live entertainment. On its face, Downtown has a plethora of live entertainment options: the 3 main venues at LA Live plus the Conga Room, Disney Hall, Dorothy Chandler, etc. But I’m talking about the live entertainment in the corner of your favorite bar. Or maybe a ‘one night only’ acoustic set where you clear out the tables at a restaurant for a night and let someone play. I’ve seen great live entertainment at Seven Grand and the Varnish, and it would be great to see more at more places – even a cool piano player can make for a memorable night. I know this also has to do with permits and money and what not, but I think Downtown would be the better for it and a rising tide would lift all boats – and if a few bars could coordinate, you could even have an “ArtWalk” style event where people come down just to check out the various acts.

A New “Christmas Tree” at LA Live
OK, so I know this won’t be relevant again for another 12 months, and I know it’s really specific, but can we retire the weird ping pong ball Christmas tree at LA Live? It was originally marketed as something that Angelenos would flock to see … but it looks like ping pong balls that light up. And nothing says Christmas like that. I want LA Live to succeed, and I want it to become a true gathering point. It won’t, when it misses the mark like that.

I think that’s enough for one brainstorm. Feel free to add yours below. I think 2009 was a banner year for Downtown, and I can’t wait for 2010 to be even better.

Stay safe, and happy travels.