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Media Room

Articles / 2012

Chamber of Commerce hosts forum to envision future of Ventura

Ventura County Star
By Arlene Martinez

There's something unnerving about Highway 101 as a motorist approaches the off-ramp into downtown Ventura, the exit to California Street.

Area architect Tyson Cline called the drive under a trestle then quickly facing a bridge to the left and large wall to the right "scary."

"You're just trying to get past there as fast as you can and not hit the side wall," Cline said.

That people drive by Ventura instead of stopping to see its offerings is a great heartache to Cline, a fourth-generation Ventura resident. It's why is he so passionate about a project to cap Highway 101.

"How do we make downtown the destination it should be?" Cline asked a room of about 200 people Thursday at the Ventura Chamber of Commerce's annual outlook breakfast.

The answer lies in connecting downtown to the beach using tree-lined walkways spanning over Highway 101. Cline referred to it as "capping" the freeway.Held at the Marriott Ventura Beach, the event,

"Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together," featured speakers who gave updates on projects and initiatives in the city.

Of all the developments proposed for Ventura, none is as ambitious as the capping of the 101. None will take as long — 50 years or more, those involved say — and, for that matter, no one spoke as long as Cline, either.

Chamber CEO and President Ed Summers had to nudge him to move along, but he was as excited about the project as Cline.

"It's an exciting dream and vision to have," Summers said.

Closer on the horizon is the Sondermann Ring Project, which Ventura Harbor Commission Chairman Nick Deitch described as a "10-year odyssey through the coastal approval process."

But now, with the approvals in place — most notably, one in April by the California Coastal Commission — the development is on track for 300 residential units, shops and a boardwalk fronting the water. It's the most significant project on the harbor since the 1980s.

Sondermann Ring isn't all that's coming to the harbor. The Ventura Harbor Master Plan has plans to upgrade the 25-year-old Harbor Village and ways to promote its commercial fisheries, Deitch said.

As with the freeway capping project, planners want to better link the harbor to downtown and make it a destination for tourists, many of whom don't know it exists.

At the same time, money for dredging will become a bigger issue, Deitch said.

The harbor recently had to spend $1.5 million of its money for an emergency dredging operation of a full sand trap. In the past, that money would have come from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Also, Downtown Ventura Partners Chairman Dave Armstrong explained how his organization and the city are working to make the shopping district a comfortable visit.

"The first thing anybody wants is safety," Armstrong said.

That includes an increased police presence and efforts to discourage people from giving to panhandlers.

To Armstrong, what the community in and around Main Street must "better utilize some of our resources. ... We are Ventura County's downtown."

Community Memorial Hospital CEO Gary Wilde described how the hospital's expansion would give the midtown neighborhood an economic boost and jobs.

Instead of one-story, somewhat "dilapidated" buildings, Wilde said, the area could have multiple-story buildings with retail and office space, and a parking structure could be added nearby.

Part of making the whole thing work is increasing the city's residential stock, said Lynn Jacobs, former director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

"We need to look at housing as a positive part of our community because without housing none of these plans will happen," she said.

City officials said the reputation Ventura has of being unfriendly to business isn't accurate.

If it ever had been true, "It's not true now," City Councilwoman Cheryl Heitmann said.

One of council's four goals this year is economic development, including a commitment to identifying and resolving potential obstacles in the permitting process. The city is doing that, she said.

Overall, Ventura has a lot to look forward to, said Jeff Lambert, the city's community development director.

"I think we are really at an amazing place," Lambert said.