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Calexico a tourist town?

January 07, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Development consultant Brian Mooney of San Diego is updating Calexico's 20-year general plan and looking at ways to revitalize the city's downtown.

He said, "The downtown is already an exciting place. What we look for is a place where people are shopping and visiting."

He said there is some wonderful architecture downtown, including overhanging arcades that make the area attractive.

However, there could be some simple changes that could make downtown even better, he said. For instance, "consistency of colors that complement each other to the reconstruction of some of those arcades."

In addition to a cosmetic upgrade, Mooney thinks there should be more restaurants and other types of activities in the area to attract more visitors.

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In the past, people from all over would head downtown to check each other out, visit the movie theater or a coffee shop, according to Hildy Carrillo-Rivera, executive director of the Calexico Chamber of Commerce.

She said there needs to be a performing arts center downtown and artisan hangouts such as pottery outlets or craft shops to attract those types again.

Mooney said that is an excellent idea.

He said the area needs to be transformed into a tourist mecca by taking advantage of the proximity to Mexico and unique culture of Calexico.

That sentiment is applauded by Mayor Victor Carrillo.

He wants to see the area take on the gloss of San Diego's Gaslamp District.

"A complete revitalization of the downtown area; a common motif or style of architecture that takes advantage of our border/southwest flavor," he said.

Carrillo would like downtown to be pedestrian-friendly so that the city could host cultural arts festivals and "Street Scene"-style concerts.

Carrillo is counting on Mooney to figure out how to plan for the sort of upgrade that goes with those grandiose plans.

"That's what we're paying him for," he said.

One of the first areas Mooney is concentrating on is the parking situation.

He said a parking lot that would allow visitors to park in Calexico and walk and shop in downtown Mexicali would be an excellent idea.

As for paying for the parking lot and construction of buildings such as a performing arts center, Mooney said the city could forge a partnership with a developer.

To do that the City Council should hire an economic consultant focused on redevelopment, he said. That person would be responsible for wooing investors and looking for grant money.

Carrillo-Rivera said, "It behooves the city fathers to support all of this. The sales tax money goes right back into the general fund."

Carrillo was asked why downtown hasn't been revitalized already and why it looks the way it does.

"There has to be a unified voice from downtown. We have a lot of diverse backgrounds and a diversity of businesses. The merchants need to be willing to undertake some of the monetary investment. If they do, the city's Redevelopment Agency would be willing to play the lead and provide the major funding for a specific plan," Carrillo said.

Roy Dorantes, advertising manager for the downtown Western Auto, agrees with Carrillo and said there needs to be a concentrated effort to unite downtown merchants.

He said, "I suggested several months ago to (City Manger Richard Inman) a ‘Walk Around the World' themed downtown. There could be an Old Mexico, Little Italy and a Little Africa. Shoppers could walk around the world and each business would have themes."

He said Inman seemed to agree that the city needed to turn the downtown area into a tourist attraction.

Doing that could be difficult, Carrillo-Rivera said.

"Some businesses downtown are only interested in making a buck," she said.

Dorantes added, "It's almost a different culture in San Diego. There is mentality of the bigger picture. The majority of the merchants here have settled for ‘That's the way it is.'"

However, he said, "We do have some that are fighting for the big picture and I'm one of them."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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