Downtown Santa Ana is a diverse business district of restaurants, art galleries, legal and medical offices, creatives, non-profits, community centers, schools, clothing retailers, grocers, residents and more.

Possessing 99 historic buildings and 20+ of the county’s best businesses (according to OC Weekly “Best of” Issue), downtown Santa Ana was named one of the 5 best neighborhoods in America by the American Planning Association in 2016.

Many agree on downtown’s immense value, and this year, we invested in connecting and building the broadest collaborative working network downtown has seen in recent history. For us, 2016 was a big year of reknitting our downtown community and building a stronger foundation for shared work, projects, and opportunity for all.


This year, Downtown Inc. and Santa Ana Business Council, the management organizations for the Downtown BID, have expanded our marketing efforts, produced dozens of events, and activated our streets more than ever by working closer together with the City and stakeholders. We are excited to build on our momentum, but first, a little more on who we are and what we did in 2016 (full details in our report, “Downtown Santa Ana Business Improvement District Report 2016-2017: The Year of Partnerships”).

For the last 2 years, I have helped administrate downtown’s business improvement district (or BID) that serves downtown’s 660 small businesses. I report to the Downtown Inc. Board of Directors and work closely with our team and downtown’s other BID management group, Santa Ana Business Council, and many nonprofits, schools, neighborhood associations and residents who are a part of the downtown area.

The BID organizations produce Artwalk, community festivals, sidewalk sales, provide music and entertainment throughout downtown and create weekly newsletters, host myriad meetings and mixers, promote retail clusters, advocate for local businesses to the city and county and bridge new collaborations with Santa Ana schools and other organizations, while keeping around 50,000 followers updated on our social media channels.

The placemaking and community vision we have for downtown Santa Ana is informed by human-centric urbanists like Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of Great American Cities) and Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class). These classic works laid the foundation for building communities that invest in people, education, culture and place.

Though the latest books on “Smart Urbanism” tell us where we are going, the UCI report, Orange County on the Cusp of Change, explains where we are now in its detailing of  issues facing Santa Ana like poverty, immigration status, housing, and homelesseness. In the BID we feel it is our responsibility to stay alert to these larger issues, and to bridge new partnerships and pathways to improve everyone’s access and use of downtown as a prosperity engine.

When I first arrived, the two BID groups were not coordinating with each other. Today, our BID groups produce half of our programming in collaboration. Together we re-awakened the 1933 Santa Ana Street Breakfast for 1,600 community members, co-produced a Santa Ana Media Summit to bring media and the community closer together, and continue to team up on our citywide Arts Roundtable series which connects local artists to jobs.

This has been a landmark year of partnerships and growth for downtown. I am excited at the distance we’ve traveled and the opportunities 2017 will bring as we continue to work together. As my close working partner at the Santa Ana Business Council, Madeleine Spencer puts it, “We have worked to overcome challenges and build a brighter future for downtown. I am encouraged by what we’ve accomplished through our burgeoning relationships across all sectors. If we capitalize on this momentum, the city of Santa Ana and all our business stakeholders are well on our way of working together to create a strong, resilient and sustainable city.”

In 2017, our most important goals are laid out for us.

1. Establish parking revenue oversight

In 2014, the Downtown BID and City of Santa Ana agreed to increase parking rates if the revenues were reinvested downtown. These revenues have already paid for a new public restroom, four community police officer positions, and smart meter improvements. This year, we want to keep moving forward with the plan’s joint oversight of parking revenue. This will help downtown stakeholders participate and invest in a healthy and vibrant district for everyone.

2. Lead the development of a creative economy

A vibrant local economy has resilience, trust, and optimism. In 2017, we will continue to build a creative economy hand-in-hand with our community. Our Artwalk and Arts Roundtables are multiplying local relationships, fostering fresh energy, and creating community-driven digital tools that help artists find jobs, training, and other resources here in our community.

3. Increase communication & shared culture

We will build on our success in communication and catalyzing shared spaces and culture downtown. We will grow our production and distribution of content about local happenings and we will host and promote events, specials, deals and classes to help connect and support our unique downtown culture.

4. Work closely with the community

Downtown is a shared asset: It works best when we all work together. We are working to establish deeper connections with city departments like Parks & Recreation, Planning & Building and Public Works and community and neighborhood groups so we can build on each other’s strengths to activate downtown as Santa Ana’s engine for prosperity.

Ryan Smolar is a Lead Consultant for the Business Improvement District.

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Turner: A Good Strategy for Downtown Inc. Isn’t Necessarily a Good Strategy for Santa Ana

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

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