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It’s way too soon to predict what kind of fire just got lit, but Westmont College’s purchase of the three-story office building at 26 West Anapamu Street in downtown Santa Barbara could provide a much-needed spark for the city’s Central Business District (CBD), increasingly a collection of electrons with no clear nucleus to spin around. At least that’s the hope of Tom Parker, chief executive of the Hutton Parker Foundation — the philanthropic nonprofit that just sold the building to Westmont. “To have the college downtown is part of what this city needs to keep downtown alive and vibrant,” said Parker.
The Westmont deal is one of several others Parker and the foundation are currently working on to get a stronger higher ed presence downtown. Before the onslaught of COVID, Parker had been in active talks with Cal State Channel Islands, for example, to launch a State Street satellite. He was in discussion with UCSB to bring its much-vaunted biosphere project downtown, as well. And for years now, the Hutton Parker Foundation has been landlord to Antioch University’s downtown annex in the Anacota Building by Anacapa and Cota streets.
At a time when there’s an abundance of ad hoc subcommittees, working groups, and a massive outpouring of architectural creativity all seeking to reengineer the DNA of the city’s CBD, the Westmont deal qualifies as actual meat on the bone for the higher ed strategy. For the last four years, Westmont has quietly rented the third floor of the Anapamu Street property, sharing space with the Community Environmental Council (CEC) — the environmental policy think tank that sprang up in the wake of Santa Barbara’s 1969 oil spill — as well as the Fund for Santa Barbara, the progressive-minded nonprofit known for funding social-justice and grassroots organizations. Parker said he’s got plans for relocating those two organizations, perhaps in another property he owns at 1219 State Street.
Westmont will be taking possession of the property early next year, but with COVID still very much a concern, it’s uncertain when new programs and classes can kick into gear at what the private college calls Westmont Downtown. Westmont President Gayle Beebe said the groundbreaking for the new building is scheduled for next August.