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Unwinding on Pine : Long Beach's Hiring of Outdoor Combos Draws Mixed Reviews

September 14, 1989|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

Barry Banmann was on his way somewhere else in Long Beach late one Thursday when the sound of music drew him to Pine Avenue.

"I think it's very nice," said Banmann, a 45-year-old harbor worker, glancing at the several live combos placed strategically between 1st and 3rd streets. "A little bit of jazz on this corner, a little bit of reggae on that corner--I'll try to make this a habit."

Officials of the city's Redevelopment Agency would be cheered to hear that.

Concerned about the dearth of after-hours foot traffic on the street generally regarded as the showcase of the city's downtown revitalization effort, they recently took the unprecedented step of committing $109,000 in agency funds to a three-month promotional campaign. About $20,000, the officials say, is being spent to hire street musicians to perform from 5 to 7 p.m. each Thursday in an event called "Unwind on Pine." The rest is paying for thousands of leaflets and a series of newspaper ads to publicize that and other downtown events.

"It's a very important part of what this agency is all about," said Susan Shick, the Redevelopment Agency's executive director, adding that the agency has never before spent so much money on a single promotional effort.

Such an effort is necessary now, she said, to bolster business on the street which, for the past three years, has been the home of a group of trendy restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. The businesses were drawn to the area by the promise of a downtown renaissance, but it has been slow in coming. At least three of the new businesses have failed and several others continue to struggle.

This campaign "was designed to send a message to the pioneering merchants that we care about what's happening to them and have committed resources to their need," said Donald Westerland, chairman of the agency's board of directors. "It has sent a message of support that can't be misconstrued."

But halfway through its 12-week run, the program is getting mixed reviews.

Pedestrian turnout, some merchants say, has been disappointingly low. A jazz band recently dropped out of the series after one of its members, miffed at being paid a month late, refused to continue performing. And although the owners of some Pine Avenue establishments--most notably Mum's restaurant, System M and the Williams/Lamb Gallery--say the promotion has significantly enhanced their Thursday night business, others contend that the effort is ineffectual, overly expensive and too narrowly conceived.

"It needs more pizazz," said Lloyd Ikerd, owner of the new Pine Avenue Pacific Coast Club. He noted that one recent "Unwind on Pine" concert drew only 18 spectators. "We could have saved a lot of money and bought 18 people dinner," he said.

Said Gerry Fishkin, a local psychologist and author who serves on the board of the Long Beach Ballet and is a frequent Pine Avenue visitor: "If this is what $100,000 worth of advertising does, it's a dismal failure."

Event promoters attribute the late band payments to a delay in the processing of invoices, which they say has now been cleared up.

Several Problems

But part of the overall problem in attracting visitors, according to John Morris, owner of Mum's and one of the early supporters of the project, is that the original concept called for closing the street on Thursday evenings to create a festival-like atmosphere conducive to pedestrian crowds. That, however, depended on the implementation of a longstanding plan by Long Beach Transit authorities to permanently reroute Pine Avenue buses to nearby Pacific Avenue. And that, in turn, depended on the completion of construction on Pacific Avenue to accommodate the new light-rail system. Work was expected to end early this summer, but has been delayed by unforeseen technical problems.

"We're ready to move today," said Larry Jackson, Long Beach Transit director, "but the contractor is nowhere near completion." While the official termination date is now sometime in October, Jackson said, "it's questionable in my mind whether they'll be done by then."

Other obstacles to attracting evening crowds to Pine Avenue, critics say, include poor lighting and inadequate parking. Some question the wisdom of the Redevelopment Agency's advertising strategy which, among other things, calls for advertising the Thursday night event almost a week in advance. And at least one member of the agency's board itself has raised philosophical questions regarding the ethics of using public money to promote a handful of private businesses rather than for public improvement projects of benefit to all.

"I'm not very comfortable with it," said James Kennelly, a new board member who was not involved in the decision to go ahead with the promotional project. "I don't think it's a proper use of tax dollars. The agency could get all bogged down on these piddling things; these (restaurant owners) are big boys--they know how to advertise."

Program Is Defended

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