Bixby Knolls, the only neighborhood in Long Beach with nine designated signs on the 405 Freeway, is now entering a new chapter.
Although the State shut down the redevelopment that helped to turn the corridor along Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue into a burgeoning attraction in the last few years through paying for social events, banners and street upgrades, City officials and business representatives said there’s still more work to do, with new improvements and developments underway.
“With live theater performances and music entertainment, imagine Bixby Knolls as the entertainment destination in the city of Long Beach… just imagine for a second,” said 8th District Long Beach City Councilmember Al Austin during the annual State of the District event, called “Bixby Knolls by the Numbers,” presented by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) at the Long Beach Petroleum Club on Linden Avenue on Feb. 20. “I’m looking so forward to working together for continued success and new horizons in Bixby Knolls… So stay tuned because the best is yet to come.”
During the event, Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, presented a list of accomplishments over the past five years and said plans are for the community to continue taking new risks. The nonprofit organization is governed by a board of directors and receives funding to promote and enhance the corridor through an annually assessed fee on retail, service and professional businesses.
“We may jump off some cliffs, we may get a little edgy, but we’re going to make it happen,” Cohn said before the large crowd that attended the event.
In the past five years, the BKBIA has launched a series of clubs, events and programs aimed at making the business corridor more “connected” with local neighborhoods.
“We started to see that if we offer more into our community and connect it all back into the businesses, we have something there,” Cohn said. “So everything really is what I call ‘smoke and mirrors.’ It’s fun. It’s social but connects it back.”
Groups such as the Bixby Strollers, community happy hours, supper-club dinners, the Kidical Mass family bike rides and a literary society have helped bridge the gap between businesses and local residents, he said, adding that the district is “walking, eating, reading, biking and celebrating together.”
During the same time that the BKBIA launched its series of programs and events, however, the association, through the infusion of redevelopment funding, has also helped give the district a “facelift.” In the past five years, Bixby Knolls has seen 40 properties painted, 50 feet of sidewalk repairs, the construction of the Expo Arts Center, and the installation of 60 bike racks and 35 feature banners. In addition, three and a half miles of streets have been repaired.
The BKBIA does have its challenges, including having to spread out improvements equally among neighborhoods and streets, keeping the corridor safe from crime and homeless encampments, Cohn said. He added, however, that recent improvements are finally giving Bixby Knolls the attention that it deserves after being an unnoticed part of Long Beach for years.
“I grew up on the east side, and Bixby Knolls became a space that was far away, and I didn’t know much about it,” Cohn said. “We’re going to change everything. We’re going to be noisy, we’re going to be a little bit ‘out there,’ but that’s fine. We want to tell about everything we’re doing.”
Plans for the future include revamping the BKBIA’s website, using social media such as Facebook and collaborating with local neighborhood groups, he said.
A few developments in the works are: two new restaurants, including a Spanish-and-Japanese fusion restaurant by local chef Dave Santiago; a bakery known as Sweet and Saucy moving from east Long Beach; and a property owner of 3939 Atlantic Ave. planning to donate a 1,700-to-2,000-square-foot-space for an art collective. He also said Larry H. Parker is closing escrow on the purchase of the former Arnold’s restaurant building at 3925 Atlantic Ave. that will house about 60 employees.
“The sum of all the projects and improvements have reshaped Bixby Knolls into a truly vibrant and active business district,” Cohn said. “With all the best schemes, large and small, from the poetry box to the Summer Shutters photo contest to the cash mob, we’re going to try everything… I’m not saying we’re going to paint zigzags in the street and risk public safety, but if we know it makes a difference for somebody’s business or somebody’s experience by being in Bixby Knolls, then we’re going to do it.”