By Stephanie Raygoza
The continual burden of the economic downturn did not appear to affect the Bixby Knolls community last year, as evidenced in the opening or relocating of 60 businesses to the district– one of the many items addressed at the State of the District on Wednesday night.
The event, hosted by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), gathered community members, city officials and businesses to the Expo building on Atlantic Avenue for an evening filled with live music by the Sepulveda Jazz Project, catering from local eateries, a community happy hour and raffle giveaways.
Seventh District Councilmember James Johnson opened the event by praising the business-centered productivity of the district and what it has come to define.
“The state of Bixby Knolls district is strong,” Johnson said. “And that transformation and what you’re seeing is only the beginning of a decades-long transformation at Bixby Knolls.”
Led by Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, the address highlighted completed projects and renovations made to the Atlantic Avenue corridor and Long Beach Boulevard along with future projects and partnerships in the works.
“After a lot of community feedback, we created a to-do list, and from that to-do-list and funds we received from redevelopment agencies, we were marching hardcore,” Cohn said.
Included on the list were special projects: the association’s mini façade improvement program, tree planting, keeping the community clean and First Fridays.
First Fridays are monthly events aimed at promoting and supporting local artists and musicians by providing an outlet to showcase their work. According to the association, the events set out to encourage a dialogue between businesses, artists and the residential communities and what Cohn defines as “an economic driver for the district.”
BKBIA has provided a boost to the community by going door-to-door talking to several business and property owners and finding ways to promote business and foot traffic.
Other accomplishments for the district, according to Cohn, included helping Long Beach Police Department add business addresses where needed, establishing two of nine freeway signs to help direct people to the business district and, with the help of Boy Scout Troop 229, planting 34 trees from Bixby Road to 35th Street.
“As we’re driving, if we see a tree that is blocking a sign, we are going to trim it,” Cohn said. “If we see plants that are nothing but trash, we’re going to take them out, fix the parkway and replant it with something nicer.”
Challenges faced by the community were not dismissed, and a concern with the state’s cutting of redevelopment agencies (RDA), which have served as the primary sources of funding for the various projects, was discussed.
BKBIA recently signed a contract with three different redevelopment agencies to receive $200,000 each year for the next 10 years, but the decision made by the state to eliminate such agencies would effect the association’s contract agreements.
“I think Bixby Knolls is an example, and you can point at all the projects being done in this building,” said Cohn. “The events that we conduct are because of RDA funding. So it’s a serious deal and we have the whole city fighting for it.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries and how they have created issues for other businesses was another item discussed. Residents located near the dispensaries have complained of loud music late at night, trash in alleys and increased graffiti vandalism. According to Cohn, the district and City are doing their parts to work through the issues.
Bixby Knolls will continue to host its annual Dragster Expo & Car Shows, community events at the Petroleum Club and holiday parties at the Expo Building, a City of Long Beach RDA-owned building that the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association leases for use as a neighborhood arts and culture center.
“The Expo is a place for community meetings, art and drama camps, receptions. We want to make this the model for the city,” Cohn said. “Connecting business to the community to city.”
In addition to carrying out various projects, the community is venturing into clothing apparel and took the time to debut their collectible T-Shirts and sweaters. Blade signs, sidewalk logo stamping and feature banners, showing the assets of the district, are in the planning stages.
“I moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, and it was nothing like this,” said Bixby Knolls resident Karen Busa.
For now, the district is focusing on drawing more businesses to start filling up the vacancies on Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.
“We cannot fight the economy. It’s bigger than us, but we can try to find ways to deal with how things are,” Cohn said. “We want everyone to understand that this is a great part of town.”