Tasked with attracting new business and out-of-town visitors — on top of keeping residents content in their backyard commercial core — the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization just hired a new executive director to oversee its 1,400 self-taxing members and $1.15 million budget.
Maggie Campbell comes from St. Louis where she led its downtown partnership since 2009. Before that, she held similar jobs in Pasadena and Dallas. Campbell is house-hunting in Santa Barbara this week and on June 16 will take the reins of the Downtown Organization (DO), which was headed by Bill Collyer for six years until he resigned last December.
After bouncing around the U.S. and Europe with a father in the Air Force, Campbell earned a history degree from the University of Texas. Her first job out of school was working for a main street program in nearby Taylor. That turned into other main street gigs around the state and Mississippi. When she eventually moved to Pasadena with her family in 2000, she said they’d spend a long weekend every summer in Santa Barbara. “It’s a small but very sophisticated market,” she said. “There certainly are advantages in being a small visitor market in a bigger region,” she noted. “Regionalism is so important.”
During her interview and discussions with the DO board, Campbell said they talked about boosting events and promotions to extend people’s visits downtown. “Give them reasons to come early, leave later,” she explained. “Downtown has some very clear assets that need to be leveraged. Food, film, shopping, and walkability make the district very attractive.” She said some of those strategies have already been implemented, but more marketing and planning can be done in conjunction with City Hall and area stakeholders.
Right now, the DO hosts several regular events and promotions like 1st Thursday, the State Street Flag Program, the Holiday Parade, and the Art & Wine Tour. It’s also busy with onetime affairs like music and theater shows, expos, lectures, and so on. One of her biggest challenges will be finding gaps in the calender, Campbell said. “There’s already a lot going on!” During her time in St. Louis, Campbell helped create a space and technology incubator, launch the National Blues Museum, and conduct a streetcar feasibility study. The St. Louis downtown partnership had an operating budget of $2.4 million, and Campbell reportedly made $170,000 a year. Santa Barbara’s DO declined to disclose her new base salary.
Campbell said she was impressed to learn of Santa Barbara’s host program and said there may be opportunities to formalize it. “Perhaps they could be a uniformed presence,” she offered. Campbell also said she appreciates the area’s mix of small stores and larger businesses, and she was happy to see downtown’s high occupancy rate. While there had been a disconnect for years between the waterfront and Funk Zone and the rest of the commercial core, those gaps are slowly but surely being filled in, Campbell explained. That’s a good sign and movement in the right direction.
Nevertheless, those positive changes can lead to problems of success — like parking, density, and “street disorder” — which Campbell said she’ll keep an eye on. Of the presence of homeless people along the State Street corridor that consistently rankles business owners and patrons, Campbell said that’s something she’ll be tackling with the police department. “Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood, a place where everyone is welcome,” she said. “Everyone needs to remember that. Whether its Santa Barbara, Denver, Seattle — the homeless problem is not unique to Santa Barbara, and it’s not going to be solved here.”
Campbell said more education is needed so business owners can recognize when someone may be breaking the law. She pointed specifically to the city’s aggressive panhandling ordinance. “It’s not against the law to be homeless or hang out downtown,” she said, “but certain behaviors are illegal. We all have the responsibility to ensure laws are followed, especially in public places. But I think everyone can agree that it’s the behavior that makes people uncomfortable, more than the presence of people not like them.”
A fan of all things outdoors and a lover of live music, Campbell said Santa Barbara’s lifestyle appeals to many of her interests and that she’s excited to get started with the DO. “There are a lot of things they’re doing right, so I’m happy about joining the team.” And while her children have grown up and moved out, she expects to see a lot of them once she arrives in town. “They’re excited Mom will be in such a cool place,” she said. “They’ll want to visit me often.”