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Facade Program for Old Town Goleta Garners Genuine Interest

Members of the City Council and Redevelopment Agency direct staff to pursue options for the project

Changes and improvements to the look of Old Town Goleta may be on the way, as the Goleta City Council and the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday directed staff to look into the options for embarking on a facade rehabilitation program for the city’s downtown area.

“This all of a sudden has become exciting,” said Mayor Eric Onnen, adding that it was possible to see a measurable improvement in the storefronts in Old Town. “We’ve been struggling for that event to start.”

Tuesday’s decision came after a presentation by Ray Bragg, a former redevelopment director for Fontana who explained to the council what had been done in his San Bernadino County city to fix up its old and dated downtown district.

“This is not a program to change the businesses,” he said. Rather, it was an effort to change what the businesses looked like.

Taking several blocks individually, Bragg’s program consisted mainly of refurbishing the exterior appearances of the downtown storefronts — with the cooperation of the property owners. Windows and doors could be replaced, walls painted, and sidewalks landscaped and improved. Awnings, canopies and signs could be added, and lighting added and programmed for security — there are many options, he said. The businesses would not be required to close during construction.

The Fontana program was based on full subsidy improvements to entire blocks vs. the more typical facade improvement program that relies on a buy-in from the owner and works on a storefront by storefront schedule. In that situation, every storefront is on its own time line, and the architectural cohesiveness of the block is not a priority, potentially leading to a mishmash of architectural styles and different states of disrepair.

As an incentive to the property owners, the city said it would pay for all improvements in exchange for the owners granting the city easements of the properties that encompass just the storefront. The Fontana program also worked on the rear facades of buildings, where people generally park and making the building more attractive from that angle. And, an architectural style was applied to the storefronts of that block to create a uniform look. Property owners, however, are required to maintain their facades, and some even improve the interiors, Bragg said.

The rough cost to the City of Goleta for improvements similar to Fontana’s are in the neighborhood of $1 million per block, including $30,000 to $50,000 in improvements per facade. There are 14 to 16 blocks combined, from Fairview Avenue to Highway 217.

The members of the council and Redevelopment Agency were highly in favor Tuesday of looking deeper into the options.

“(Revitalizing) Old Town has been kicked around for many, many years,” Councilman Michael Bennett said.

Old Town Goleta, the region along Hollister Avenue from about Fairview Avenue to Highway 217, has indeed seen its days. It was a major thoroughfare during the Goleta ranching days, and Hollister Avenue was once part of Highway 101. In that time, businesses have come and gone, resulting in an eclectic facade on the short strip: Deco, Streamline Moderne, as well as more utilitarian styles and Spanish-influenced looks. In the years before cityhood, the area was also considered blighted because of the disrepair of many of the buildings in the area.

City staff will have to consider several major endeavors in that area of Goleta that are under way — a couple with redevelopment funds already committed to them, including a parking study and the Hollister Avenue redesign project. One possible result of the parking study includes permanently removing parking off Hollister Avenue to open up the street, particularly to bicycles. The Hollister Avenue redesign, which is still in its earliest stages, may do away with the double sidewalks on the north side.

Before any infrastructure work can begin, however, the city is waiting on a pending San Jose Creek capacity improvement project, a plan to reconstruct the section of the partially channelized creek that runs south through the east end of Old Town to the Goleta Slough. Before any other kinds of major improvements can happen, the creek, which is subject to flooding during wet winters and El Nino events, has to be modified to contain the flows that otherwise would run west along Hollister Avenue, causing damage to buildings.

The community’s appetite for such a program is also a factor. Several proposals have been forwarded to fix up Old Town Goleta over the years, going back to even before cityhood, but improvement has been slow at best. The city does have a facade improvement assistance program of the storefront-by-storefront variety, which is voluntary and partially subsidized by the city. It has provided $300,000 in assistance to qualified owners of 35 storefronts for repairs to roofs, windows and doors.

There are also those who may take issue with the architectural aspect of the program. For all its incongruency with design, some buildings are comfy remainders of the older days, such as Santa Cruz Market and Domingo’s restaurant — both originally airplane hangars. The community center used to be a school, and another building housed the town blacksmithing forge.

For those people, as well as the property owners, outreach will be particularly important if there is to be any participation at all. Bragg said that one of Fontana’s challenges was to convince the owners “that the city was serious this time.” Even with a full subsidy, after failed attempts at revitalizing storefronts, it took work to get the owners to believe their easement would result in facade improvements of the impact that was desired.

Goleta has its own situation, particularly with the Hollister Avenue redesign effort, where attempts and studies have been made without major improvements — for various reasons.

“When you hire your architectural firm, you make sure that it’s a firm that’s going to be listening — to what the people on Hollister Avenue have to say about what’s important to them on what their street’s going to look like, because it’s their street,” Bragg said.

The matter is expected to come up again before the Redevelopment Agency in the near future, when city staff has taken an initial look at the status of projects in the Old Town area and assessed potential funding sources.

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

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