Economic Development Strategy Update

In March of 2021, during the height of the pandemic, the City Council approved the Economic Development Strategy (EDS) which included a two-year plan for immediate pandemic relief efforts and a longer 3–5-year plan for recovery and activation of the City’s business and retail sectors.

The EDS was developed through a process that included data analyses, outreach to stakeholders, surveys, and input by the City Council and City staff to identify significant opportunities and challenges to be addressed in the plan. The EDS has helped guide the City’s efforts over the last three years, and the development of key recovery and resilience programs including the Santa Cruz Resilience Microloan, Grow Santa Cruz Revolving loan, Temporary and Permanent Outdoor Dining programs and the Downtown Pops! Vacant Storefront Activation Programs. These programs provided critical support for many businesses during the pandemic and have also served as the basis for permanent policy changes to provide growth opportunities now as recovery continues post pandemic.

As 2024 holds significant promise for additional business recovery, it is time to take stock of existing programs, review the goals and objectives in the EDS for the next two years, and evaluate opportunities for further business support and activation of our primary commercial districts in Santa Cruz. This comprehensive approach will not only enhance the Downtown and Midtown environments but also align with the City's commitment to Health in All Policies.

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Specific progress has been made in the Downtown on the following EDS strategies and actions:

  • Developed a pop-up program, with streamlined permitting requirements, to allow temporary retail and food uses in vacant storefronts
  • Working towards creating a permanent outdoor dining program for both public and private property
  • Property owners approved increased rates and expansion of Front Street and Cedar Street for the Downtown Management Corporation District
  • Business owners approved increased rates and modified assessment formula for Downtown Association
  • Collaborated with City departments to improve safety and comfort concerns in downtown
    • Ambassador Program doubled in staffing in 2023 and tripled welcoming services stats
    • Ongoing Downtown Outreach Worker services and resource coordination between Ambassadors, DMC, and SCPD
    • City Services made an impact in clean, safe, and welcoming in Downtown in 2023:
      • Increased and dedicated SCPD Officers and CSOs for Downtown
      • Public Works was able to provide consistent sidewalk cleaning throughout Downtown
      • Parks and Recreation beautified the Pacific Avenue tree wells & planters to keep them improved, maintained and frequently blooming throughout the year
    • Projects to be completed in 2024
      • Painting light poles and planter bed fencing
      • Replacing missing street name letters on planter beds
      • Installation of new benches
      • Installation of new trash and recycling cans
  • Ongoing expansion of diversity of entertainment, dining, nightlife, and retail uses in Downtown Santa Cruz, and explore opportunities to attract non-retail ground floor storefront uses that would draw foot traffic to Downtown Santa Cruz, including gyms, entertainment, and games; also support inclusion of medical offices in Downtown except along Pacific Avenue and Cedar Street
  • Continue to partner with the Downtown Association, Visit Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Works, and others for shop local campaigns and efforts to encourage local spending
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Similar to the downtown, the midtown area continues to grow with a mix of retail, restaurants, services, and community organizations coming together to promote their collective businesses and connect with their immediate neighbors and the larger Santa Cruz community. Economic Development has been supporting the growth of this commercial district and their burgeoning Midtown Business Association through attendance at their organization meetings, sponsorship of collective marketing efforts, and the infrastructure and programming support for the beloved summer event series, Midtown Fridays, a city-led event series operated by Event Santa Cruz.

The EDS recommends the following strategy and action for the Midtown shopping area:

  • Support and assist the Midtown area in assessing the support for and potentially creating an improvement district to enhance local marketing, maintenance, and collaboration efforts
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City Council and Staff Recommendations and Direction

Based on the progress of our Economic Development Strategy and the current city needs, the Santa Cruz City Council has made the following recommendations for further city improvements:

1. Placemaking and activation: creating more events like Midtown Fridays and converting public spaces like alleyways downtown into event ready venues.

2. Assessment of remaining empty storefronts and the development of potential incentives for property owners: like accessing current vacancies, potential leasing/activation incentives, and potential code changes to support leasing.

3. Planning for future use of the existing library space including a permanent home for the downtown Farmers’ Market.

4. Integration of new downtown housing projects into the downtown business, retail and shopping environment: mitigate impacts during construction, create new marketing programs for new downtown residents, and examine current parking programs to proactively ensure they meet downtown business needs.

5. Pursue establishment of Midtown and Westside Business or Property-Based Improvement Districts: this creates a fund to provide supplemental services to a specific geographic area

6. Amend the Economic Development Strategy to include these additional strategies and actions

7. Return to Council with an update on progress during the current fiscal year

Interested in diving in further? Read the full report here.

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