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Newhall plans receive mixed response

Some businesses frustrated with proposed changes. Part 2 of a two-part series.

Posted: April 19, 2008 11:57 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Downtown Newhall is in the midst of a major change that could ultimately lead to a complete transformation of the entire area.

By establishing an arts and entertainment district filled up eclectic shops and fun destinations, the city hopes to establish an "Old Town Newhall" that will one day set its own trend.

But with the series of planned changes, some businesses are feeling frustrated as others continue to maintain their support of what a revitalized downtown Newhall will become.

City officials have a vision of a revitalized downtown Newhall that will become a destination for not only Santa Clarita Valley residents, but visitors from outside the local region.

"It will become somewhere you go and spend a quality amount of time," said Alisha Celestine, communications specialist for the city of Santa Clarita.

That means visiting and walking the streets of Newhall to shop, dine and visit the local historical museums.

Celestine and city administrative analyst Alex Hernandez believe downtown Newhall will have two layers.

"Collectively, it will be a combination of the arts and entertainment area, yet not denying the very long rich history that exists," Celestine said.

The two existing theaters, Canyon Theatre Guild and Repertory East Playhouse, will become the "anchors" of downtown Newhall, Hernandez said.

And while city officials have toured the redeveloped downtown areas of other cities, like Pasadena and Monrovia, Celestine and Hernandez, want to create a "unique" area that has its "own identity and character separate from other cities who have revitalized their old towns," Hernandez said.

"We would rather have smaller mom and pop independent stores and chains than national tenants," Hernandez said.

"It's going to be the alternative to the (Westfield Valencia) Town Center," he said.

Creating 'Old Town'
In order to market downtown Newhall, which has been branded as "Old Town Newhall," the city recently developed a marketing plan based on a series of meetings with business owners, city officials and others interested in the revitalization project, Celestine explained.

Based on the input from the roughly 40 stakeholders, a 2008 marketing plan was created and presented at a recent meeting with the Newhall community.

According to the plan, the redevelopment's target audience is not only people in their 20s and 30s, known as the "trendsetters," but also people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, as well as parents and grandparents, who are considered the "establishment."

Unable to give money directly to businesses, the city will continue holding annual city-sponsored events throughout the year as a way to drive traffic to downtown Newhall.

According to the marketing plan, nearly 10 events, including the Fourth of July Parade, seasonal Farmers' Market and upcoming Cowboy Festival, are listed as annual festivities to be held in the area. The total cost of the events is listed at $499,675 with a total of $41,000 to market them.

Additionally, Celestine said more events are being initiated including a spaghetti western night on May 1, featuring a spaghetti dinner and a Western film at Veterans Plaza.

Other marketing campaigns are planned for the future, but have not been determined at this point.

Aside from the city-sponsored festivals, the city is continuing to promote its consumer-friendly Web site, www.mynewmainstreet.com, which lists stores and restaurants in downtown Newhall, as well as an overview of the redevelopment.

Although the downtown Newhall revitalization and marketing campaign will create opportunities for new businesses, Hernandez maintains that the city of Santa Clarita is not trying to push out any existing stores.

"By doing those marketing efforts and paying for those, the city definitely has an invested interest in the business there," he said. "It is not an effort to run them out."

Questioning
Additionally, Chris Price, assistant city engineer, said that the city is unable to control the success or failure of a business.

The revitalization project and what it would create prompted many businesses, like Capelli Salon, Cookbooks Plus and Poka-Dott Trinket & Party Shoppe, to set up shop in downtown Newhall. Over the years, as some businesses have maintained their invested hope in the redevelopment, others have begun questioning the city and what downtown Newhall will become.

Mimi Hiller, owner of Cookbooks Plus on Main Street, said a major concern is that the city has not outlined specific plans for the revitalization.

"They are not communicating any concrete ideas, specific plans about all the things they plan to do," she said.

As for the city's marketing efforts, Hiller, who has stationed her business in downtown Newhall for two years, said, "I don't really see much in the way of marketing," noting that she has not seen any sort of billboard to reflect the changes that are taking place.

"I think we deserve that," she said.

Similarly, Stephanie Weier, owner of Poka-Dott Trinket & Party Shoppe on Main Street, said the redevelopment has been "very unorganized."

"They say they're listening, but they don't really listen," she said, referring to the city asking for input from downtown Newhall businesses.

While Weier, who moved her party shop to downtown Newhall in September 2007, said the city has "some grand ideas" like bringing activities to the Newhall area, she would like to see more done to market the revitalization.

She suggests initiating advertising that is "a little bit more on the edge" to go along with the funky and artsy atmosphere the city hopes to create.

Bigger picture
Nevertheless, Sabina Fetter, owner of Capelli Salon on Main Street, is able to look at the bigger picture of the redevelopment plan and what it will offer downtown Newhall.

"I can see the vision of what's supposed to happen," she said, later adding, "It's just going to keep getting better."

Fetter said the Farmers' Market, which began its season a couple of weeks ago, is already "10 times better than last time."

While she remains optimistic, Fetter said the city has been "dragging their feet" with the whole redevelopment plan.

As for marketing, Fetter said the city should consider a direct mailer to local residents as a way to bring people to downtown Newhall.

In the meantime, Fetter believes the streetscaping, which could begin as early as this fall, will make a difference.

"It's actually going to be gorgeous," she said, noting, "By this time next year, it should be a completely changed look, especially with the new streetlights."

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