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Hermosa Beach Face Lift Wins Final Approval : Renovation: Project is designed to attract strolling shoppers and new businesses downtown. But critics have assailed plan to raise parking rates to help fund the work.

December 01, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The mayor calls Hermosa Beach's aging downtown a sewer. A consultant hired by the city politely describes portions of it as unattractive.

The city's business district has taken its lumps, but officials plan to improve it with a $6-million face lift.

Plans approved unanimously by the City Council last week call for doubling the width of some downtown sidewalks to accommodate outdoor dining and closing a portion of Pier Avenue to eastbound traffic. Palm trees will be added, newspaper kiosks may be installed, and lights may be strung canopy-style down a portion of Pier Avenue.

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It's all part of the city's plan to attract strolling shoppers and new businesses.

In recent years, shops in downtown Hermosa have lost business to nearby malls and cities, officials say. Manhattan Beach, for example, attracted many shoppers and businesses after officials spruced up the city's downtown area years ago.

Now, Hermosa Beach wants a piece of the action.

"We're not trying to become Manhattan Beach," said Councilman John Bowler. "We're just trying to emulate its business success."

Last year the city established a commission to consider improving the area, and officials worked with a Canadian consulting firm to develop the latest plan. Improving the area is more important than ever, Bowler said, because dwindling state funds to local cities have forced Hermosa Beach to become more reliant on tax dollars from merchants.

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Work on the project will probably begin next year and take at least four years to complete. But before construction companies can submit bids on the work, officials must finalize several aspects of the plan.

The council has yet to decide whether to raise parking rates downtown. To help pay for the project, the consulting firm recommended rates on downtown meters be raised from 25 cents per half-hour to 25 cents for 15 minutes. Residents would be exempt from the fee, but the plan has drawn criticism because the city already has a reputation for overzealously enforcing expired parking meters.

Mayor Robert (Burgie) Benz believes raising parking rates will drive away customers. But overall, he supports the plan.

"It should help improve things," he said. "It should be a damn carnival downtown."

Benz believes the city's downtown began deteriorating about 15 years ago when council members began imposing tighter restrictions on businesses.

"Hermosa just languished in this type of atmosphere," he said.

But Benz is optimistic that business will improve in the area. The current council has eased regulations on merchants to promote new investments, he said.

And plans are under way to improve the city's pier, which traditionally has attracted many visitors to Hermosa.

Now, city officials must determine how to pay for the work on the streets and sidewalks. City staff members are expected to make funding recommendations to the council in January.

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