City officials hope rebounding tourism and big events will help downtown businesses recover • Long Beach Business Journal
Downtown Long Beach is slowly coming back to life as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, but foot traffic in the area is still well below pre-pandemic levels.
It’s a problem that has kept small businesses from fully reaping the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery — and one city officials hope to tackle.
Business owners spoke about the issue with Mayor Robert Garcia on Tuesday during the first of nine “recovery roundtables” Garcia is hosting in each city council district to hear business leaders talk about their concerns and their challenges. challenges as Long Beach seeks to rebound from the pandemic.
The first edition, in the 1st arrondissement which includes downtown, focused both on the difficulties of changing business during COVID-19 and on issues such as homelessness and public safety.
“All my employees are girls in their twenties and they’ve had serious incidents in the parking lot,” Pie Bar owner Laurie Gray told Garcia. “Some of them got scared and had to be escorted to their cars at night. So that’s my biggest concern right now is that people don’t feel safe when they’re working. and visit downtown so they can support small businesses.
Garcia and city staff present at the meeting, including Deputy Police Chief Gerardo Prieto, spoke about initiatives to raise awareness of appropriate city contacts for these concerns. Prieto also shared plans for an upcoming shift to using downtown bike patrol officers.
But another key step to reviving downtown Long Beach, Garcia said, will be bringing back the events and attractions that make downtown unique. Their departure, although necessary to stem the health crisis, has left a void, and companies are feeling the effects.
“There are a lot fewer people on the street,” Garcia said. “When there are fewer people on the street, there are fewer stares on the street and there are more opportunities for trouble.”
“It’s not just about public safety – even homelessness issues are directly related to the number of people on the streets,” he added. “We can solve so many things by restarting economic activity.”
To that end, Garcia, along with the President and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Steve Goodling, and the President and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Jeremy Harris, have said giving people a reason to visit downtown Long Beach again will help solve many problems. businesses in the neighborhood are now confronted.
Congress business has already begun to pick up. The Trans-Pacific Maritime (TPM) conference returned earlier this month with a 90% attendance rate, Goodling said.
And while the conventions draw people from across the country and around the world, Garcia said other events will also help boost local and regional tourism.
“We’re on a booking tear right now,” he said. “We are just starting to book concerts and events and things like that. It’s going to take a lot of people above convention. Then there’s the Grand Prix, there’s Pride, there are certain weekends that get a lot of people.
“We used to have shows every few weeks,” Garcia added. “They would bring in tens of thousands of people…and these are finally coming back.”
The hope, it seems, is that big events will be a key part of returning downtown Long Beach to pre-pandemic normal. But city and business leaders have also acknowledged that the large-scale shift to remote working also poses a challenge for small businesses in the region.
“A lot of our office buildings aren’t full yet,” Garcia said. “We know it will never be the same again. We will never have as many people in our corporate buildings as before, and things have changed, but we also need to encourage people to come back to work.
Restaurants, dry cleaners and other small businesses, he noted, depend on the daytime activity generated by downtown office buildings.
“Small businesses won’t survive,” Garcia said, “if we don’t encourage people to come back.”
But in the meantime, Harris said the business community is eyeing a rebound in tourism – both for business and pleasure – to fill some of the gaps.
“This whole concept of ‘Hey, it’s a perk to work from home, stay home,'” Harris said, “We all know that downtown, like the mayor alluded to more early, it doesn’t help” small businesses.
“So what we did,” Harris added, “is we went around all of our major hoteliers…and really started a campaign to welcome back the small business restaurants, during the day , for their attendees, whether it’s conventions, whether it’s overnight stays, and let them know that there are family restaurants that are open again.
It can be a small preview of a larger city-wide campaign.
“We want to get the city and the [Downtown Long Beach Alliance] and the CVB and the Chamber – all of our partners together on something to come up with to encourage people to come back, to shop, to dine,” Garcia said. “The goal, at the end of these nine conversations, is this: we want to get a little PR/marketing plan, kind of a ‘welcome’ plan. We don’t know what that looks like yet. Obviously, that’s part of why we talk to people. We want to know the needs.”