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District Gets Down to the Business of Reviving Central Oxnard Area

Locals are watching to see if the office can turn around the declining downtown. Plans for a $12-million theater are expected to help the effort.

March 12, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

It's taken several years of planning and has attracted its share of doubters along the way, but the Oxnard Downtown Management District has finally opened its doors, ready to tackle the unenviable task of reviving the city's moribund downtown.

Now, as Oxnard grows faster than any other city in the county, locals are watching the office and its newly appointed director to see if they can spruce up downtown, attract more business and, most importantly, make downtown a destination spot for residents and out-of-towners.

"We want this to be a place where people like to come after work or on the weekends," said Jennifer Talt, the district's recently hired executive director.

"There are so many new housing projects coming to the city, that we want to develop a downtown so that people don't have to drive out of town to enjoy themselves."

Unlike other cities attempting to foster a downtown vibe out of nowhere, Oxnard is actually halfway there, Talt said.

"Downtown Oxnard still has that original urban village feel," Talt said. "We don't have to create that."

Plans for a $12-million movie theater next year and surrounding shops and restaurants are expected to give downtown a major shot in the arm. That, along with a marketing campaign highlighting the city's hidden treasures, should boost an area long in the doldrums, officials said.

"If you build a clean, safe environment with attractive restaurants and entertainment, people will come downtown," said Al Barkley, chairman of the management district's seven-member board.

The new office, which has an annual budget of about $350,000, is an outgrowth of a downtown tax district the City Council created in 2001.

In addition to administrative costs, the district will use its budget for street-cleaning and maintenance, physical improvements, lighting, crime prevention and a major marketing and promotion campaign, Barkley said.

Although the council's decision to create the district was supported by the Downtown Oxnard Merchants Assn. and the Chamber of Commerce, some have questioned why city staff members don't handle downtown matters.

"The truth is the city just wasn't addressing some of our needs," said Barkley, who owns a local insurance company and recently sold a building he had owned since the early '80s.

"I had people sleeping on my doorway, graffiti, vandals. The city's ability to do the things that need to be done can only go so far and we advocate for the direction we think is important for downtown," Barkley said.

Longtime business owner Roberto Garcia said he is beginning to see a difference in cleanliness and overall foot traffic but wishes property owners would do more to rent out the many vacant buildings downtown. He sees the new tax as an investment in a place that is about to make a huge comeback.

"In a few years, people will really notice the difference," Garcia said. "I think it's more like a gift to the community, which has been very good to us. It's only a matter of time."

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