By Amy Bentley on behalf of our client, World Business Academy

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On June 28, the World Business Academy hosted our second panel discussion about revitalizing State Street and Downtown Santa Barbara and the meeting yielded some very good news: Amy Cooper, owner of the Plum Goods store on State Street, announced she will head a new Santa Barbara Retail Task Force to help lead the revitalization effort. The World Business Academy remains dedicated to giving leadership and help with this effort. But let’s be clear: this is a COMMUNITY issue and the community needs to be a part of the solution!

Our latest meeting at the Belmond El Encanto resort, which was attended by over 100 people and covered heavily in the local media, was the second time in recent months that we have gathered retail representatives, thought leaders and city development experts to discuss how to stop State Street from dying on the vine.

No one in Santa Barbara can deny that something has to be done to breathe new life into the retail sector in Santa Barbara and particularly State Street. The State Street retail community has been hammered by recent local natural disasters, compounding the impact of e-commerce, neighborhood vacancies, difficult local regulations, aggressive panhandlers and high rents.

We are holding these meetings to give our community a vision and pathway for the Santa Barbara of tomorrow and to inspire citizens to participate in the shaping of their city and home. Our June 28 meeting was a follow-up to the World Business Academy’s Global Citizens Club meeting held on March 21, entitled, “Reviving Retail in Santa Barbara,” which started this important, ongoing conversation about revitalizing State Street and the Downtown retail picture, and making a visit to State Street an “experience.”

At the recent meeting, the infusion of fresh ideas from Jerry Ogburn, a downtown development advisor for the city of Palm Springs, provided wholesome food for thought. Ogburn shared his experiences in Palm Springs, which has successfully reinvented itself in recent years and is no longer seen as a city just for the elderly (“God’s waiting room”). Ogburn noted that more millennials, new downtown housing, additional street lighting, added outdoor dining and a vibrant gay community have all given Palm Springs new life; maybe they would help Santa Barbara’s Downtown, too. A Downtown park would be nice also, Ogburn added.

He said Palm Springs attracts thousands of locals, millennials, families and tourists alike with its lively weekly Village Fest held on Thursday nights, where live entertainment, craft booths, shopping and food bring the community to the downtown for a night of fun for everyone. Why isn’t Santa Barbara doing something like this?

Rinaldo S. Brutoco led the June 28 discussion that also included Amy Cooper; former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin, now president of USA Green Communities; and Ron Fox, a board member for People Assisting the Homeless. Fox rightfully noted that the solution to moving homeless folks off of State Street is finding them somewhere to live, and while that’s difficult, at least the homeless problem Downtown could be mitigated.

If Santa Barbarans want to rescue Downtown from becoming obsolete and help remake the area into a destination where locals and tourists flock, then we all have to join the effort. Read our blog and watch for our news in the local media as this effort and the workings of the new task force move forward. We hope everyone in the community pays attention and joins this important effort to make our city a vibrant destination that everyone can enjoy.

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