The city of Ventura has come very far indeed in the 21st Century.
Once considered an also-ran among California beach communities, Ventura has been on an upward arc ever since former District Attorney Mike Bradbury kicked the Hell’s Angels out of the so-called mid-town district. His aggressive prosecutions trickled down to Main Street and set the stage for a major cleanup and revitalization.
Indeed, one of the earliest issues of the Business Times back in 2000 touted “Ventura’s Rebirth.” But this column is not about nostalgia for the days when ficus trees lined Main Street and browsing used bookstores was the most popular sport in town.
It is about the future. And the fourth-largest city in the Tri-Counties appears to be on the verge of a breakthrough. Here’s why:
• Ventura Harbor is getting a major overhaul thanks in part to the efforts of Sam Sadove, an East Coast transplant who is working magic with the northeast side boat docks, repair yard and restaurant. Sadove and his partner are turning an underutilized section of the harbor into a capstone for the relatively upscale neighborhoods in the Ventura keys.
Meanwhile, on July 9, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assemblymember Das Wiliams’ bill which will enable the Army Corps of Engineers to cut dredging costs by $750,000 to $950,000 per year. Dredging, a pricey operation, is essential to a functioning harbor.
• The mid-town district, now cleared of gangs, is on the verge of a major reinvention thanks to an enormous amount of hospital construction. The major rebuilds at Community Memorial Hospital and to a lesser extent the Ventura County Medical Center have pumped more than $500 million in construction spending alone into the area. The new facilities will become economic engines in their own right when they open.
• The city and the Ventura Chamber of Commerce are beginning to envision a bold new process that would redesign the downtown district, capping the freeway and reopening the path between downtown Ventura and its beaches. Highway capping is expensive, time-consuming and fraught with political risk for any elected officials who are caught up in the project.
But it’s really important for the future of Ventura, and West Ventura County, that the city give the idea of a highway cap a serious look. As Chamber President Ed Summers said at a business breakfast last month, “Ventura … is really the only city in the county with a vibrant downtown.”
By capping the freeway, Ventura will have a unique opportunity to remap the future of its beach area. With a thoughtful plan, Ventura could move ahead with any number of recently proposed projects that have been stalled while the city contemplates the future relationship between its waterfront and shopping district.
I continue to believe that the Hail Mary play for Ventura is a redevelopment of its county fairgrounds to go along with the recapping effort. According to the bequest that conveyed the fairgrounds to the state, it must remain usable for the annual celebration of Ventura agriculture. But the restrictions on the bequest wouldn’t necessarily forestall the development of a major conference center or country music entertainment complex on the grounds, as long as it would still accommodate the county fair.
Indeed, before it ran into financial difficulties and sold out to Marriott, Gaylord Entertainment, owner of the Grand Old Opry in Nashville was weighing such a project in Chula Vista. Chula Vista? With stars like Kenny Loggins and producers like Mark Hartley in the area, it might be worth it to throw the long ball.
Twenty-five years ago, Ventura was running away from its downtown as the county offices moved east to their Victoria Avenue campus and Pacific View Mall opened. Now, it is moving back toward its greatest asset, its beaches and the very short distance between the white sands and the downtown shops and restaurants.
In the 1980s Federico Pena, a relative unknown, won a mayor’s race in Denver by asking its citizens to “Imagine a Great City.” On the Central Coast, it is Ventura’s turn to imagine great things.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]