GUEST COMMENTARY - The opportunity to drastically change the conditions at Venice Beach will only occur through active and persistent political and governmental leadership that is disciplined, focused and determined to create and construct meaningful and sustaining change not just for Venice, but for Los Angeles and the entire state of California.
For with the change in LA’s political leadership that understands nothing can be accomplished until the parallel problems of street encampments and homelessness are drastically reduced, contained and controlled, Venice’s Oceanfront Walk will continue to suffer economically and this undervalued and diminishing asset must have a plan in place that reverses course.
For an economic revival and renaissance of Venice’s Oceanfront Walk will be critical as two global events come to Los Angeles with the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the 2028 Summer Olympics, which makes it third appearance to the City of Angels.
In both cases, part of the tourist dollars that will come with sponsoring such international events is dependent upon a Venice Beach that lives up to the notion of a marquee destination, and part of a hosting process that views our beaches and amenities as first rate and worthy of coming back.
For Venice should be an economic magnet for tourism, entertainment, dining and alike, and the challenges of increased crime and homelessness must be targeted and extracted from a district or venue designed to bolster commerce and goodwill.
With the Summer Olympics being organized as we speak, Venice to date is not the site of any events according to LA28, the organizing arm of these summer games.
Consider the size and geographic location of Los Angeles and the multitude of venues that will be included such as Santa Monica, the Honda Center, Staples, the Rose Bowl, a Downtown Sports Park as well as for the first time a Valley Sports Park, the fact nothing has been scheduled for Venice only sheds light on the current conditions that exist as unsafe and unattractive for any event!
And while five years seems like a longtime and things might change, how does change occur if there is no plan in place to make it happen?
In my view, time is not on the side of the host.
Councilwoman Traci Park (CD-11) in a recent public appearance talked about her new committee assignments which includes Chair of the Trade, Travel & Tourism Committee for the LA Council and while her term is only four years, the preparation for these Olympic Games surely will weave through this committee moving forward. And with her council district a primary destination for tourism on the Westside, leisure and hospitality issues and concerns will certainly be on agenda for these upcoming events.
For it will take big ideas to host bigtime events that are on their way to LA and Venice naturally needs to be a part of both.
But what can be done to create a foundation for success?
In my mind the operation of Venice Beach needs to be reconsidered and configurated to include private management and private funding for this public venue.
Currently considered a park, I believe the creation of a restoration corporation with it’s own management team and board of directors with a specific action plan and timeline would cut through the red tape and take it out of the hands of LA Recreation & Parks as being simply too large of a challenge in it’s current condition.
Public/private entities and corporations have been wildly successful as in the case of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation that was created in 1980 to assume control of that operation that was plagued with high crime, drug abuse and a host of other problems that today is now the envy of most municipalities and the host of Fashion Week in Manhattan that has been transformed from an urban park ghetto into first-class tourist destination directly behind the New York Public Library.
New York City’s transformation of Bryant Park would make the iconic urban planner Robert Moses proud.
With a new management team in place, the job of transformation will be out of the hands of bureaucrats and in the hands of individuals with an immediate task at hand, to restore and renovate Oceanfront Walk while providing a maintenance plan and capital improvement agenda to maximize its location as one the most visited destinations in all of California.
With eliminating the scourge of crime, encampments and homelessness which would make OFW clean, inviting and worthy of visitation, certain things need to be considered immediately:
- Create this public/private governance.
- Implement a privately run maintenance system for this defined location that should absorb operation of the Venice Pier as well, similar to that of the Third Street Promenade.
- Have this new governing authority be tasked with a Master Plan that includes input and cooperation from city, county and state officials with strong financial assistance in federal dollars.
Once the entity has been created with operational control and access to permanent funding, the immediate needs of OFW can be successfully addressed such as:
- The construction of at least six to ten additional restrooms, showers and other outdoor facilities to accommodate visitation and need.
- Develop partnerships with the private sector to offer other amenities like charging stations for phones and dressing rooms for those coming to the beach to swim and surf.
- A complete restoration of the boardwalk, which has not occurred since 2000 when LA hosted the Democratic National Convention.
- A Streetscape of the boardwalk that beautifies and adds decorative lighting, signage and access that accommodates motorized scooters & bicycles with a privately funded, dedicated lane west of the current bike path.
- Making the Venice Pier more versatile with an area for outdoor concerts, dancing and a transportation component that links it to the Santa Monica Pier.
Once governance and funding have been attained, creating jobs and building the type of family-style entertainment that invites locals and tourists alike should be considered:
- The construction of a 2,500 seat baseball park that would host an LA Dodger minor league affiliate at the beach hosting day games and night games that would draw an affordable alternative to MLB baseball much like the wildly popular Cyclone Park in Coney Island, a very similar venue to Venice as an urban beachfront community.
- A Hollywood Bowl style structure, a band shell in the form of a sea shell that can host an array of events such as summer concerts, and work as permanent venue for entertainment, tourism and commerce.
Beachfront restoration, revival and action is required now more than ever and the days of rendering OFW as a homeless dumping ground must end. Venice Beach has the makings of so much more, the weather and location call for an arts and entertainment venue that could rival and exceed South Beach in Miami while maintaining the vision of Abbot Kinney. This will not be easy and anything worth doing never is, but the timing is here and now and Mayor Karen Bass and Councilwoman Traci Park have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restart an economic engine and create a boom that will truly transform Venice’s OFW into something truly unique and special.
(Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian and member of the Oceanfront Walk Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council and a contributor to CityWatchLA.com.. Have a tip or a take on anything Venice? He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected])