By Nick Diamantides
While most Bixby Knolls business owners are struggling against the effects of the national economic recession, there are still reasons to celebrate. And celebrate is what they did last Thursday (February 18) evening at the annual membership meeting of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA). About 70 people, including some elected and appointed governmental officials attended the event, which took place in one of the banquet rooms of the Long Beach Petroleum Club.
“We’ve had an exciting year and it’s been full of challenges, especially with the economy,” said BKBIA president Brent Dunn. He noted that Blair Cohn, the association’s executive director, has done a tremendous job of helping local businesses stay afloat during difficult times. “He has so much energy, I can’t keep up with him,” Dunn said before letting Cohn take the microphone.
Cohn began by thanking the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA) for funding many of the improvement projects undertaken by the BKBIA. He also noted that the RDA had paid for last year’s HyettPalma study of the Bixby Knolls area. HyettPalma is a consulting group that specializes in developing plans to revive struggling business districts.
The study, which relied heavily on input from the residents and business owners of the area, resulted in a comprehensive report detailing the goals and strategies for energizing the area and increasing the profitability of the restaurants and shops located there. Cohn said the BKBIA was using the Hyatt Palma report as a to-do list.
The evening began with live dance music performed by a well-known local jazz group, the Anne Walsh Band. While a few couples danced close to the stage, a line formed at the tables where a variety of finger foods awaited the attendees.
During Cohn’s approximately half-hour presentation, he outlined some of the events and projects sponsored by the BKBIA in 2009, as well as projects planned for 2010.
He noted that the 4th Annual Bixby Knolls Dragster Expo and Car Show held in July attracted large crowds, and the “Bixby Knolls” banners placed on Atlantic Avenue from Wardlow Road to 46th Street have underscored the area’s unique identity.
“We have a number of streetscape improvements, which is kind of our next phase of what we are doing here,” Cohn said. “We just completed one at the end of January, where we had Boy Scout Greg Reilly from Troup 29 complete his Eagle Scout project by planting 37 trees on Atlantic Avenue from Bixby Road to 35th Street.”
Cohn said Reilly’s project was part of the BKBIA’s three-phase approach to improving the gateway to Bixby Knolls from the 405 Freeway. Cohn explained the next phase of the gateway improvement will begin in early spring. That project– being undertaken by Boy Scout Ben Eastman, also of Troup 29– involves creating a landscaped border around a lot containing an oil pump, located at the southeast corner of 33rd Street and Atlantic Avenue. “When you get off the freeway now, all you see is this barren oil field,” Cohn said, noting that the landscaped border will give the lot a park-like appearance. Thirteen new trees are going in, all drought-tolerant native plants,” he said, adding that in the near future a new Fresh and Easy Market will open across the street from the lot adding to the synergy of the area.
The third gateway improvement project is a proposed community garden on the 3300 block of Atlantic Avenue on a vacant lot between Denny’s and Mustard’s Chicago Style Hot Dog. Cohn explained that the BKBIA has been working with the property owner to make the proposal a reality and already farmers and garden caretakers are ready to begin working on it.
Cohn also noted that CALTRANS recently approved signs on the north and southbound 405 Freeway that will declare: Bixby Knolls Next Two Exits. “So we will have freeway signs, a landscaped lot, new trees on Atlantic, a Fresh and Easy, a community garden and banners,” Cohn said. “So now all the way through Bixby Knolls it’s night and day improvements.”
Cohn also talked about the RDA-financed BKBIA Façade Improvement Fund. He explained that the association can now provide up to $2,000 in matching funds to five business owners who are willing to invest their own money to improve the fronts of their properties.
During the remainder of his presentation, Cohn described the success of ongoing BKBIA programs such as the Literary Society, Bixby Knolls Strollers, First Fridays, the Supper Club, Community Happy Hours, live entertainment and art displays at the Expo Building, Petroleum Club events, and the many other ways the BKBIA works to promote and market the area.
While Cohn accentuated the many positive happenings in Bixby Knolls, he also acknowledged that the area faces continuing challenges such as the economic recession, business closures, lower assessment revenues, graffiti and other crime.
For more information call (562) 595-0081 or visit www.bixbyknollsinfo.com.