A new member orientation at the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce on June 13 ended in a quick, but meaningful, discussion of one of the key topics downtown: what to do about all the empty retail spaces on State Street.
Some of the new chamber members wondered if the largest business organization in the county was going to do something about the problem that is getting as bad as it was during the recently ended recession.
Chamber President Ken Oplinger did not offer an immediate remedy, but pointed out at least problems that have led to the demise of so many State Street businesses: aggressive panhandling and the changing face of retail,
Prior to the State Street discussion, Oplinger alluded to another downtown problem caused by underground electrical utility vaults, which usually flood when heavy rain deluge the area.
Oplinger also said the Downtown Organization , which is funded by Business Improvement District taxes, is not really set up to tackle the many issues that lead to empty storefronts. Vacancies reportedly are at about 3 percent now even though it might appear worse than that to the average passerby.
City officials and business recently met to discuss the State Street situation, but did not arrive at any particular solution. One suggestion was to change the look of the “For Lease” signs that numerously appear on empty storefronts along the commercial corridor.
However, at least a couple of commercial real estate brokers disagreed with several business on what good it would do to change the signs.
Signs or no sign, most people agree the real solution is to attract someone to fill those empty spaces. Oplinger said it’s a tall to because the buildings are owned by some 80 different landlords scattered throughout the country. Not many live in Santa Barbara County, he said.
On the bright side, Oplinger mentioned that the city expect to get a total of 25 to 30 cruise ship visits this year. In years past, the average cruise ship visitor spends some $200 while in Santa Barbara, mostly on State Street.