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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 4:51 pm | Fair 64º


New Look for Old Town Goleta to Go Before City Council

On Tuesday's agenda is an improvement project involving storefront facades, and the city of Fontana serves as a model of what might be in store

Lined with dozens of eclectic shops, including some of the best taquerías on the South Coast, Old Town Goleta is an intriguing mix of nostalgia. Many of the buildings are retro and unique — such as the Goleta Electric Co. at 5970 Hollister Ave. — even though they’ve fallen into varying states of disrepair.

That disrepair, and the incongruity of Old Town to Goleta’s newer shopping centers such as Camino Real and Fairview, have long perplexed the city’s decision-makers. Making the charming, if frayed, stretch of downtown more palatable to the rest of the city is at the heart of the City Council’s agenda item on Tuesday to consider storefront facades, and it’ll decide if that’s the direction it wants to examine for Old Town.

For inspiration, Goleta officials are looking to the city of Fontana in San Bernardino County. Staff say Fontana’s downtown had many of the same challenges facing Old Town Goleta: historic buildings, used for a variety of purposes, all in various stages of upkeep.

“Goleta is very typical of this kind of historical downtown that just kind of needs a shot in the arm,” said Ray Bragg, who was Fontana’s redevelopment director for 25 years. “It really does represent the heart and soul of the community.”

Fontana’s downtown facade project was one of the last projects Bragg tackled before retiring and two blocks already had been built, with a third in the design phase. A similar project is going up in San Jacinto in Riverside County, as well.

The program doesn’t change anything about the business except the way it looks on the outside. Not changing anything structurally is precisely why it would be a boon to the city. If it starts dabbling in structural improvements, it’s on the hook in terms of liability if anything should happen in an earthquake or fire.

“Motorists will say, ‘Gee, look at that new building,’” Bragg said.

What is done to each building would vary, even though each block would have an overarching theme.

“Some buildings, all they need is a fresh coat of paint and new awnings ... or it might be a whole new aluminum storefront — it depends,” Bragg said. The facades are then secured onto the fronts of the existing building, updating them without altering much. Bragg works with San Luis Obispo-based architectural firm RRM Design Group, which specializes in this type of facade.

Making an entire area look the same is also a concern, especially in an older area where buildings grew up one at a time.

“Each building has an individuality to them,” said Bragg, adding that they don’t go for a uniform look across the entire lot, but will have the same paint palette range and architectural theme.

So, how do you get the owners to all agree on a look?

Many of Old Town Goleta's current stores, such as this corner market, are overshadowed by relics of the district's former tenants.
Many of Old Town Goleta’s current stores, such as this corner market, are overshadowed by relics of the district’s former tenants. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Bragg said that when he began the Fontana project back in 2004, he went straight to the property owners, not the business owners. When they signed on, and were sure the city was serious about the project, he started getting interest.

“No sooner than we started construction, I had calls and e-mails from people asking, ‘When are you going to get to my block?’” Bragg recalled.

Within a week, the next block had signed up. “It works very well in older downtown areas,” he said.

Jaime Valdez, a senior management analyst with the city of Goleta, was at the redevelopment conference in March when he and other city staff first talked with Bragg about the condition of Old Town.

“It’s seen better days,” Valdez said.

He said Goleta has a storefront improvement project that’s been in the works for several years, but the improvement has been “piecemeal” because it’s a voluntary program, and some store owners haven’t been involved.

The program has helped more than 30 storefronts and put in $285,000 of redevelopment money into various improvements, such as new windows, for storefronts. Valdez said the program has been successful, but the overall look of Old Town is still wanting.

“Obviously, Old Town has not been redone,” he said.

With the current program, the RDA foots 80 percent to 90 percent of the bill of improvements, with store owners paying the rest.

For some of Old Town’s shop owners, however, interest in the program has been tepid at best. The money is there for the repairs, so why aren’t store owners jumping on it?

“That’s our question as well,” Valdez said. Because the new program would work block by block to place a uniform look for each block, “you don’t have a two-story building next to a one-story with different lighting and different windows.”

Valdez said Tuesday’s agenda item is just to get a sense of whether the council is interested in pursuing the plan.

Cost efficiency of the facades is another big plus for the city.

“The problem with a lot of the buildings in Old Town is that if you start opening them up, you find that a lot of things that need repair,” he said.

Estimates for the facades come in about $800,000 per block, and were taken when the program was done three years ago. Valdez said he believes bids could bring in cheaper prices now.

What do business owners think?

Noozhawk talked with Santa Cruz Market owner Tom Modugno, whose Old Town grocery store at 5757 Hollister Ave. has been inside a converted airplane hanger and historical landmark for the past 30 years. It’s the perfect example of a thriving Old Town business — and it’s architecture is unlike anything around it.

Modugno said he hadn’t heard that the facade project was going before the council, but that he tried to get in on the city’s storefront improvement project several years ago. By the time he had filled out all of the paperwork, city officials told him the project had run out of money.

He said Old Town definitely needs some cleaning up, and the idea of a little more cohesion among buildings wasn’t lost on him. But he said entire blocks being uniform sounded like it might be going too far.

“I’d have to look at it before I made a decision. Some parts of Old Town are too mish-mashed,” he said, but added that some have their own style — such as the Goleta Electric building. He said he likes what Old Town Ventura has done in its efforts to revitalize, but is worried that the ideas from Fontana might look too much like a “strip mall.”

“If they could come up with some sort of uniform style of what represents Old Town, without going into tile roofs and stucco, that might work,” he said.

Look around Old Town today, and the last thing that comes to mind is uniformity. Each building is so different that cohesion seems nearly impossible — even if the confusion adds to its charm.

The City Council will evaluate the proposal at its afternoon meeting, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

“It’s really up to them to decide if it’s going to be advantageous for Goleta,” Bragg said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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