Investors Looking for a Piece of Downtown Santa Ana’s Mojo

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There’s no doubt that downtown Santa Ana, with its art galleries, restaurants and bars, has caught the attention of party-loving 20-somethings in recent years.

But the eclectic scene has also sparked interest among another group: business investors.

According to city officials, investors have approached the city, seeking to begin new projects in the area. The City Council responded earlier this month by approving a public request for developers to submit downtown development proposals.

The potential for new projects has city officials considering a city-owned parking garage at the corner of Third Street and Broadway as an asset to developers. Although it isn’t yet clear what could be built in the area, Councilwoman Michele Martinez suggested something that would incorporate the atmosphere that has already been created.

“I really believe that we’re missing an arts and cultural center,” she said.

While the downtown nightlife has grown in popularity, not everybody is happy with the changes. Some Latino residents and business owners have charged that the transformation is a gentrification scheme to oust Latinos. Proponents, including new businesses and major property owners, said they are merely responding to changing market conditions.

The area has also been the focus of considerable media attention lately as artists rallied against aq church’s purchase of the Santora Arts Building, considered the heart of the popular quarter called Artists Village. The church has since cancelled the sale.

The parking structure in question needs improvements, according to Councilman David Benavides. City officials could opt to have the garage replaced altogether with a mixed-use project, Benavides said.

“We’re kind of opening up the doors and basically put the expectation on a potential developer or investor to see what they say would work,” Benavides said.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento said a hotel would be a good fit for the area and also provide room-tax revenue to the city.

“It just seems logical to have a use like that near the courthouse,” Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento also expressed caution about future developments, saying “We have to make sure the fit is a good one.” He recommended reconvening a council development committee that would review new proposals to make sure they are built intelligently.

Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, who has championed the anti-gentrification cause, said that the larger community must be involved in new projects.

“I know we have made mistakes as it relates to the downtown. Let’s not walk into yet another one,” Alvarez said.

Mayor Miguel Pulido suggested looking at the way other cities have approached public requests for development proposals, including financing such projects. “Often when you get to the end of it, it’s can you finance it, can you make it work?” Pulido said.

Vicky Baxter, executive director of Downtown Inc., the organization that promotes the downtown, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

— BRENDAN WILES and ADAM ELMAHREK

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