Upgrading Brawley's Main Street

January 07, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — Business leaders here are continuing the effort to obtain a state designation that would aid the city in upgrading Main Street, turning it into an area that could draw tourists and new business.

The designation — part of a state Department of Trade and Commerce program — would identify the city's Main Street as a California Main Street.

That designation would allow Brawley to tap into state funding and other assistance that would help the revitalization effort.

The effort to obtain that designation is moving forward, and local business leaders are confident the state will name Brawley as being part of the program.

Tim Kelley, new executive director of the Brawley Economic Development Commission, said he thinks a physical change to the downtown could be under way in two years.


The focus on obtaining the state designation started about two years ago as Brawley business leaders came together with the goal of turning the downtown into a tourist attraction.

Committees were established to work on different segments of the effort, from organization and promotion to the design of the revitalized Main Street and the economic restructuring of the area. Forming the committees was a key first step toward earning the state designation.

Gordon Jongeward, owner of Urban American Cos. in Brawley and other businesses in the area, has been leading the effort. Jongeward has gone through a state-run training program on organizing California Main Street revitalization projects.

He has described the effort as a spiritual, physical and cultural rejuvenation of not just the historic downtown area but all of Main Street.

The revitalization would take place in phases with the goal of improving the look of Main Street, adding more light and a breezeway that would make it easier for shoppers to walk from one side of the street to the other, easy access to parking behind buildings and attracting new business.

Those involved with the project also want to see new entertainment opportunities and more community events.

Should the city obtain the state designation, a nonprofit group would be formed to manage the program and an executive director would be hired to run the California Main Street Program — a requirement of the designation.

Still, there is much work to be done and variables that must be dealt with to make the dreams of a revitalized downtown a reality.

One major element of the effort is the Brawley Bypass, a project that calls for moving Highway 111 north of the city and directing truck traffic away from downtown.

The highway directs traffic directly into the downtown area, making it difficult to park and cross streets.

Downtown leaders say such traffic makes it difficult to attract shoppers.

The Brawley Bypass is set to start construction in 2003 and the work is expected to be completed in 2007.

Kelley said some might think rerouting traffic out of the downtown could hurt the area, but he said the effect will be the opposite.

Downtown, he said, will become a place where families can shop, adding traffic will consist of those motorists who want to be downtown.

Kelley added the building of a San Diego State University campus will help the effort. He said there will be a need for stationary stores, bookstores and eating establishments.

Nicole Gilles, executive director of the Brawley Chamber of Commerce, added that Brawley is going to become a college town.

To that end, she would like to see coffee shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities.

Kelley said perhaps the city could attract an Internet cafe.

Kelley also pointed to the fact Vons is moving from its location on Main to the Rio Vista Center further west on Main Street. He said the old Vons facility will open up an opportunity for retail businesses and entertainment facilities such as a theater or bowling alley.

Gilles said the goal is for Brawley's Main Street to become a destination in and of itself for people in and outside the Valley.

"We want to make Brawley a destination," she said, adding, "The whole community had to understand this needs to be done."

Greg Smith, president of the Brawley Economic Development Commission, said there is much that can be accomplished through the California Main Street program.

He said the arts, education and history should all be included in the fabric of the revitalization effort. He said art galleries could be built in the city's plaza, the library could be expanded and there could be murals that showcase the history of the Valley.

"We really need to make the plaza a center point," Smith added.

Brawley City Councilwoman Jo Shields said she can remember when she moved to the city in the 1950s when the downtown was bustling and people would dress formally to walk down Main Street.

Shields said she thinks downtown could be bustling again, but the bypass must first be constructed.

Still, she said the planning must take place to prepare for the time when truck traffic is routed off of Main.

"It is important to do the planning stages now so when Caltrans completes the Brawley Bypass, we will be ready to reclaim our downtown."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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