For business improvement districts tasked with promoting the economic interests in their areas, the last year was an exercise in keeping small businesses open and thriving. The challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic, which continued to impact how people gather and shop.
Entering the new year, leaders are hopeful 2022 will bring further recovery to the Valley economy, support more tourism and strengthen retail businesses.
Mary Hamzoian is the economic development manager for the city of Burbank and executive director of the Downtown Burbank partnership, the organization which manages the property-based business improvement district. Over the past 19 years, the PBID has invested more than $13 million into downtown Burbank through capital improvements, maintenance, marketing, advocacy and leasing support. For 2022, the district’s goals are to continue those investments with projects such as enhancing outdoor dining parklets and pedestrian safety features, as well as implementing a wayfinding program “to create a sense of place and incorporate downtown’s new brand identity.”
Downtown Burbank ranks No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list of Business Improvement Districts.
Over the last year, Hamzoian said, the Downtown Burbank district has been working harder than ever to attract visitors and customers. The PBID created outdoor dining parklets throughout the district that were either specific to a certain restaurant or communal areas that could be used by anyone. It also launched a new marketing and social media campaign, as well as a popular weekly performance series called Music on the Boulevard to create ambiance for outdoor diners.
“Despite the challenges that 2021 brought, the Downtown PBID remained successful attracting new tenants, developments and implementing a variety of projects and programs to assist the businesses in downtown such as al fresco dining, marketing and social media promotions, and events,” Hamzoian said in an email to the Business Journal.
Managed by nonprofit groups of stakeholders, business improvement districts are funded through annual assessments paid by businesses and property owners within their boundaries. Property-based business improvement districts offer services with a specific area on the map, including cleaning public spaces, sidewalk maintenance, trash removal and security. Business-based improvement districts offer services such as physical improvements like benches, trash receptacles and decorations, as well as producing activities that benefit the assessed businesses. Tourism business improvement districts are meant to raise awareness of the destination, sponsor special events that attract overnight visitors, and create sales programs that bring large groups into hotels and resorts. They are usually financed by a special tax or fee on hotel rooms.
Visit Conejo Valley, the tourism business improvement district meant to attract visitors to Agoura Hills and Thousand Oaks, has had to pivot since the pandemic from catering to business travelers to promoting more casual and vacation stays. While lasting coronavirus impacts prevent tourism from returning to pre-pandemic levels, Danielle Borja, chief executive of Visit Conejo Valley, said the TBID has been recovering steadily.
“The demand is actually very strong for our hotels, so I think that’s a really positive trend,” Borja said. “Going into the new year, we’re not at 2019 levels, but it’s definitely much stronger than we predicted it would be.”
Visit Conejo ranks No. 3 on the Business Journal’s list. Borja also heads the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce in Thousand Oaks.
As part of a campaign to promote hotel stays in the region called “Conejo Cash,” Visit Conejo Valley currently offers a $100 credit card for those who stay at select accommodations and register online and will continue the promotion through the beginning of 2022. The TBID will also develop more travel resources for the leisure segment through the next year, promoting social gatherings and event spaces for those looking to host weddings and other large-scale events that may have been postponed by the pandemic.
“We are working on a beer and wine trail map, which we’re going to be launching in the first quarter. Between Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills, there are quite a few wineries and breweries, and we have craft cocktails. And we thought that would be kind of a fun asset, especially for our travelers coming into town,” Borja said. “And then we’re getting ready to do a whole new creative shoot as well, which was one of the things that we were not able to do this past year. We’ve had some new attractions come into the area, like The Mighty Axe (a bar featuring axe-throwing and craft brews) and some new businesses that we’d really like to showcase to our travelers coming into the area.”