Residents share ideas for improving downtown SLO

The Downtown Centre in downtown San Luis Obispo.
The Downtown Centre in downtown San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A thriving downtown in San Luis Obispo would be more enticing to locals, safe, and provide a variety of housing and businesses opportunities, according to a group of residents queried on their vision for the area.

More than 40 people attended a town-hall meeting Wednesday to share their ideas for the future of the downtown as the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association works to update its strategic plan.

Those attending the meeting painted a picture of a vibrant downtown that flourishes with a mixture of retail and restaurants, offers various cultural events, and is easily accessible and walkable.

However, a lot needs to change before that vision can be fully achieved.

Concerns were also expressed about a growing number of panhandlers, large corporate stores replacing locally owned businesses, more restaurants and bars than retail shops, and poorly maintained sidewalks.

Suggestions included creating an incentive program that would entice more locals to stores by offering a discounted parking rate for shopping; offering a shuttle to make travel between the parking structures and the downtown core easier; and deterring transients by creating donation/giving stations that visitors could donate to versus giving money to panhandlers.

The Downtown Association, focused on promoting economic vibrancy downtown, represents 650 members. It promotes the Thursday night Farmers Market and many other events downtown, in addition to advising the city on how to keep the downtown core economically successful.

The association is a nonprofit organization funded in part by a business improvement district spanning 40 square blocks.

The organization’s annual budget is $700,000, with $200,000 collected each year by the city in taxes for the business improvement district. The rest is collected by sponsorships, fundraisers and more.

The revised strategic plan, created in 2000 and last updated in 2007, will be released at the association’s annual breakfast on Aug. 7.

Through a contract with the city, the association must provide the Thursday night Farmers Market, Concerts in the Plaza and holiday activities.

However, the organization’s reach spans well beyond that, including its role as an advocate for its members.

Executive Director Deborah Cash said the organization will likely take a stronger advocacy role in the future on topics like creating a more diverse businesses environment and bringing more housing and hotels downtown.

“We have long been focused on activities and programs, and there is going to be a shift in the direction of advocacy in the next five years,” said Cash. “We will be hitting hard on things that are going to improve the future of the downtown.”

The Downtown Association recently lobbied the City Council to hire two additional police officers to help control transient behavior downtown. However, that request was denied.

The organization also played a role in forming a program with bar and restaurant owners to promote safe nightlife.