Business owners and local residents gathered at the Wrigley Village business district Saturday, Nov. 2 for a ceremony to unveil new monument signs and volunteer time to clean up the area in hopes of establishing the corridor as a prominent shopping destination.
The State’s decision to abolish redevelopment in order to fix California’s budget shortfalls nearly two years ago was a major blow to blight-fighting efforts, but community leaders of the business district on Pacific Avenue in Long Beach were able to come up with a creative way to keep the improvements going.
The signs, located at each end of the historic district on Pacific Avenue at Willow Street and Pacific Coast Highway, cost $12,750 apiece and were funded through a combination of community volunteers, federal grants and donations from businesses and residents.
The Wrigley Association and the South Wrigley Neighborhood Advisory Group (NAG) each received a $5,000 grant through the City of Long Beach Neighborhood Partner Program, which provides federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding.
“We’re hoping Wrigley Village will catch on,” said Annie Greenfeld, co-chair of NAG, in a phone interview. “We just need to keep working on it.”
To participate in the federal program, communities are required to use the grant for permanent beautification of an area located on the CDBG map, which opportunely included Pacific Avenue’s business district.
Each grant was matched by donations from Long Beach companies, individuals and groups in the form of goods, services and funding. Local eateries Buono’s Pizza, Tacos El Toro and Pho America all donated food for the volunteers during a community cleanup.
Sav-On-Signs, located at Termino Avenue and East Anaheim Street, donated volunteer hours to complete the signs and install them. Graffiti Protective Coatings donated cash as well as protective coatings (an anti-graffiti measure). The Wrigley Association also raised money for the project to pay for city permit fees that the grants didn’t cover. In total, more than 120 volunteer hours were pledged to clean up the business district, according to community members.
Colleen McDonald, parliamentarian of the Wrigley Association, said both groups successfully submitted the grant applications and worked together on the beautification effort.
“The signs are beautiful in many ways,” she said. “They are a testimony to the collaborative efforts of neighborhood volunteers working on an ambitious effort to help a struggling business district to brand itself.”
The community had planned to build and install the signs through the use of redevelopment funding, but once the State took that option away, hopes for the new signs were all but dashed. However, once an opportunity for federal grants came up, the community jumped at the chance with support from surrounding businesses and neighborhood activists, Greenfeld said.
“We’re not giving up just because redevelopment has gone away,” she said. “We’re going to move forward with whatever we can. We’re continuously going to try to improve the streets, whether it takes cleanup or some kind of events.”
Jane Kelleher, owner of Sav-On-Signs, which has completed various monument and gateway signs throughout Long Beach, said communities are going to have to take similar, proactive steps to make any improvements now that redevelopment is gone.
“We’re good friends with Wrigley and NAG,” she said. “Since the demise of the redevelopment agency, communities need to get creative to better their neighborhood, and I think the signs will be a big help.”
Greenfeld said the area has been called the Wrigley Village since about the 1980s, when the Wrigley Village Business Association was formed. NAG, which was established in 2002, took over much of the efforts to improve the business district while hosting monthly meetings.
The signs incorporate an outline of Pacific Avenue with an Art Deco look to reflect the architecture of the many storefronts along the street. The signs also feature black and gold tiles.
“It really shows how much the people who live in Wrigley care about the area,” said Greenfeld, a 20-year Wrigley neighborhood resident. “There’s a sense of community in Wrigley I haven’t seen… The people really want to move Wrigley forward and bring it back to what it used to be.”
According to a blog titled “Long Beach’s Past” by local author, historian and librarian Claudine Burnett, housing tracts in the extended “Wrigley District” neighborhood were first developed as early as 1906 to take advantage of the nearby Pacific Electric trolley junction. The trusted Wrigley name was used in marketing to homebuyers. In the 1920s, other housing developments followed on Long Beach Boulevard, Magnolia Hill and Silverado. Prior to becoming housing, a portion of Wrigley was once used as an airfield by famed Long Beach aviator Earl Daugherty, Burnett states.
McDonald said what attracted her to the neighborhood was the convenience of having a shopping district located within walking distance of her home. She said the retail corridor has a rich history and potential to become a thriving business community.
“The size of the shops and their plentitude provides an ample retail environment structure that we can make attractive to businesses to make their home,” she said. “We already have a tremendous amount of vehicular traffic that travels along this piece of Pacific Avenue. As we continue to improve the structure of this business district, I am confident that the Wrigley Village will be successful.”
McDonald said the two community groups have already submitted grant applications for even more beautification elements for the Wrigley area and expect to find out later this month if the efforts were successful. The community is also looking into the possibility of creating a business-improvement district, or BID, that would assess businesses there to pay for various improvements and amenities, similar to Bixby Knolls, she said.
McDonald said a tree-planting event in Wrigley is scheduled for this Saturday, Nov. 9 from 9am to noon at Walgreens on Pacific Avenue and Willow Street.