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Newhall's Facelift
What's Going on with Downtown's Redevelopment?
March/April, 2005 - Issue #6
They've tried it before - hiring architects and consultants to renovate and improve a once vibrant and essential commercial area in the city of Santa Clarita. These plans didn't take hold for several reasons - the scope was too big, the price tag unattainable and the community didn't have buy-in.

This year another plan has hit the desks of city council members and those involved in downtown Newhall redevelopment are optimistic. Prepared by Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists, this comprehensive plan tackles infrastructure, implementation, code enforcement and finance all while keeping the historic value of the downtown area intact.

But why will this plan work when others have failed?

"Because it's hip to live downtown," said Andree Walper, economic development assistant for the City of Santa Clarita. "There is such an emphasis on downtowns right now. People want to live where they can walk to shops and restaurants and near transit."

Walper is right. Maybe you've been to some of the redeveloped areas. Pasadena is an easy drive, Montrose is a great place for Christmas shopping, and downtown Long Beach has been transformed from a down-and-out port city to a vibrant consumer-friendly environment with restaurants, shops, clubs and residential space.

Downtown Newhall consists of 271 acres with two adjacent neighborhoods separated from one another by railroad tracks and the downtown businesses; a 15-block downtown and three roads in and out of the area, all bordered by a county park and a private four-year college.

Over the years retail businesses left downtown Newhall to be more accessible to the growing housing market of Valencia and beyond. Of the 158 active retail businesses left in downtown Newhall during 2003, more than 30 were automobile repair related.

Since the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the city of Santa Clarita has tried to find a way to revitalize downtown Newhall. The architects tackled the redevelopment plan by looking at Newhall's history, circulation, community and open space. To look at the entire picture, city staff, community members, business owners and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society were consulted and interviewed. Field trips were taken to successfully renovated downtown areas in Monrovia, La Verne, Claremont and Pasadena.

The proposed plan combines a mixture of restaurants and condos, retail and open space and a way to get to them all by public transport with plenty of parking. In January, a draft of the proposed plan was presented to city council members. The council is expected to make their recommendations on the plan this summer.

"There was an extensive public process," said Councilwoman Laurene Weste. "More than 150 people were at the meeting and all the [business] owners were notified. This is a serious plan that accommodates the desires of the community and the vision for a future that incorporates the best of the old and the best of the new."

There are several phases to the proposed plan starting with the improvement of East Newhall, the renaming of San Fernando Road to Newhall Avenue from State Route 14 to 3rd Street and designing a Main Street in the downtown business district. Several parking structures, a civic center and plaza, children's museum and a new look to Hart Park will provide an inviting welcome to the area.

Several historic buildings and businesses have been identified such as Newhall Hardware, Newhall Ice, and the American Legion Hall. Future phases include a new library that will close Main Street at Lyons Avenue.

These changes will occur over a period of years as existing businesses upgrade and new businesses come in, Weste said.

Auto Service Plus, owned by Larry Totter, sits at the intersection of Lyons Avenue and San Fernando Road, the location of the proposed library. He said he isn't too concerned about relocating if necessary because the development plan is large and expensive. With 30 years in business, Totter said he has a strong clientele and customers will come to him no matter where he is located.

"(Redevelopment) is a learning experience for everyone that lives here," Totter said. "You've got to embrace change. Until that day comes, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. It's a good thing that [the city council] cares about the community."

Redevelopment will take several years and will be financed through a variety of options including sales tax, general funds and private investment. Over time, new businesses that fit the redevelopment profile will buy into downtown. A mix of retail and residential will create a night life as well as a day life, Weste said, and it will appeal to the community as well as tourists.

"Tourism brings in revenue that will upgrade roads, make new parks and buy open space while not impacting the schools," she said. "Wonderful things have already been done - the Veterans Park, Hart Park, the Metrolink station and trails. Pieces we are doing [in downtown Newhall] will be used around the community."

"We're not trying to compete with the Town Center," Weste added. "We want a different environment."

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For more information about the Downtown Newhall plan, contact Walper at 259-2489.
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