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 Tourism Cities: Long Beach and Anaheim - 
Both Have Significant Selling Points
By Sandi Cain, Orange County Business Journal Staff 

July 2007 - Long Beach and Anaheim are friendly rivals, vying with each other for  tourists and once squaring off in a bid to land Walt Disney Co.’s second  Southern California theme park.

Anaheim ended up getting the park, Disney’s California Adventure, which  opened in 2001.

Since then, the two cities have taken different redevelopment paths.

Along with the new park, Anaheim expanded its convention center, saw hotels  built or upgraded as well as other developments in and around the 1,100-acre  Anaheim Resort District.

The redevelopment regenerated what had been a sagging tourism industry in  the late 1990s.

Long Beach, which enjoyed a heyday in the late 1990s, lost some luster early  in the decade due to financial setbacks and lawsuits that delayed the  completion of its waterfront redevelopment and neighboring projects.

One project ran into trouble when Newport Beach-based Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc. filed for bankruptcy.

A Carnival Cruise Line facility was delayed by environmental challenges. Several hotel projects languished with a lack of financing.

Now, Anaheim faces a struggle over the resort district’s future. Developers are trying to cement zoning that would allow them to put homes within the 2.2 square mile area currently reserved for theme parks, hotels and shops.

The controversy - which could come to a citywide vote this fall - has led other property owners to hold off on plans within the resort district until the matter is settled.

Just outside the resort district at the Platinum Triangle, as many as 9,500 homes are in the works, along with 5 million square feet of office space and 2 million square feet of commercial space.

In nearby downtown Anaheim, the Colony Park development stands to add another 339 townhomes, while Harbor Lofts is bringing 129 homes.

But the issue of bringing homes next to Disneyland or near a planned third Disney park in the area - has divided the city, with some trying to turn the zoning issue into a debate about affordable housing for Disney workers.

Across the county line, Long Beach redevelopment again has taken off on the strength of an improved economy and the efforts of Downtown Long Beach Associates, which lobbied for zoning changes to encourage development - including housing.

“We were able to change the zoning ordinance for the (waterfront) promenade in order to be able to develop residential,” said Kraig Kojian, president and chief executive of the downtown group.

More than 6,000 homes are completed or in some phase of development in downtown Long Beach. They sell for $300,000 to $3 million. Affordable housing also is part of the mix.

The zoning move in Long Beach, along with an improved economy, helped jumpstart the long-awaited Pike at Rainbow Harbor, a 369,000-square-foot retail, dining and entertainment complex valued at $130 million.

The complex helped bolster attendance at Aquarium of the Pacific, which struggled in its early years as the lone bastion of entertainment on the downtown side of the harbor. Today, it is surrounded by restaurants, a Segway store, GameWorks, shopping and nightlife at places like the trendy V2O.

That appeals to convention planners seeking a compact district where restaurants, shopping, entertainment and hotels are within walking distance of the convention center. With the completion of the Pike at Rainbow Harbor and Pine Avenue’s emergence as a dining and nightlife hot spot, Long Beach has most of those components in place.

It’s about a 10-minute walk from the convention center to the waterfront, the aquarium and to water taxis and catamarans that take visitors to Seaport Village or Catalina Island. There’s a wine-tasting bar across the street from the convention center, next door to an Irish pub. Pine Avenue is just another block away.

Both cities have turned unattractive or run-down areas into thriving spots in the past decade. And despite the recent tussle over housing, Anaheim continues to prosper.

From 1996 to 2006, revenue from Anaheim hotel occupancy taxes almost doubled to $80 million. Hotel occupancy is at 70% to 75% for the past three years - partly on the strength of convention business and Disneyland’s 50th anniversary that peaked in 2005.

Through May of this year, Anaheim hotels are 75% full, up about half a percentage point from last year.

But retail and dining projects have been slow to develop, though this year did see the debut of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Morton’s. Some meetings and convention planners lament the lack of non-Disney shopping close to the convention center.

GardenWalk project, a 19.3-acre outdoor mall and hotel complex across from Disneyland, is under construction.

As for conventions, the nod goes to Anaheim, which has the largest facility on the West Coast at 1.6 million square feet, versus 400,000 square feet at Long Beach.

Both cities could use an expansion to draw more business.

Anaheim has explored several options for expansion, though none have been approved and funding could be an issue without the help of a business improvement district that would raise money by taxing area businesses.

An economic impact study on expansion is due back within weeks, according to Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. But a proposed business improvement district has generated little enthusiasm from local hoteliers.

This year, Anaheim landscaped the outdoor area around the convention center’s arena to create an outdoor venue for special events.

Long Beach has no plans for expansion. Instead, Kojian said the Downtown Long Beach Associates wants to work on getting more retail into downtown.

“We have entertainment and dining and we’re getting residents (downtown),” he said. “Now we need to work on a stronger retail base.”

Anaheim, acutely aware of the same need, eagerly is awaiting the first phase of GardenWalk this fall. It stands to add restaurants Roy’s, Johnny Rockets and PF Chang’s.

Anaheim also has more hotel rooms than Long Beach. Anaheim has more than 8,000 rooms within a mile of the convention center, while Long Beach has 2,000 rooms downtown.

Several hotels are slated to open in Long Beach in the next year. Hotels planned for Anaheim are unlikely to open that soon.

Long Beach probably has the edge in ground transportation, with free mini-bus transportation in and around downtown that carried 944,000 people last year. That’s in addition to its own bus system, a light rail station that runs to downtown Los Angeles and the AquaLink catamaran that ferries passengers to visitor attractions in and around Long Beach Harbor.

Long Beach also has a cruise terminal near the Queen Mary and Catalina ferry service.

Anaheim’s resort district is served by an electric fleet of trolleys under the Anaheim Resort Transit banner. The trolleys carried about 2 million people last year.

But travel outside the resort district still is cumbersome without a car - a situation the city hopes to remedy with a long-range plan for an Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The city has purchased the land for the site, but faced a setback when the project failed to secure federal money.

In his 2007 state of the city remarks earlier this year, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle suggested another way to build the center: through private funding. The plan would ask businesses if they would be willing to provide funding in exchange for development rights nearby.

“We won’t dictate their vision for this 17 acres of land,” Pringle said, “but ask them for creative ideas on how to make it work.”

Both cities have significant selling points, not the least of which is their attraction as tourist destinations - a factor often considered by convention planners who want to bolster attendance.

Long Beach estimates it had about 5 million visitors last year, who spent $343 million while in town. Figures for Anaheim alone aren’t available. But Orange County had 45 million visitors, the bulk in Anaheim, who spent $8 billion.

In Anaheim, convention planners often cite the family-friendly atmosphere and proximity to Disneyland as reasons for choosing the city.

In Long Beach, proximity to the waterfront is a plus.

“Everybody wants to be by the sea,” said Mary Russell, president and chief executive of Hamilton Group Meeting Planners in Tustin, who has arranged conventions in both cities.

Long Beach is “very affordable” compared to other waterfront locations, Russell said.

Still, competition for tourist dollars is fierce. A couple of conventions have used both Anaheim and Long Beach in recent years, most recently Anime, a convention of about 15,000 fans of the Japanese animation sensation.

And no one yet knows what impact the addition of housing to the resort district would have on convention business in Anaheim.

“Right now, we have a shortage of first-class rooms in Anaheim,” Ahlers said. “If those aren’t developed as intended, it could stunt our growth.”
 

Sports Towns

Long Beach and Anaheim share something in common - they often play second fiddle to Los Angeles in the national mindset.

In many other states, Long Beach and Anaheim would be the leaders.

Long Beach, No. 5 among California cities with about 475,000 people, has roughly the same population as Atlanta.

Anaheim, No. 10 in California with 334,000 people, is about the same size as Cincinnati.

Together, the two cities have almost as many people as the state of Montana.

But in Southern California, they have to be noticed for something other than size or tourist attractions. Sports is one way.

Both cities have hosted Olympic trials - swimming in Long Beach and gymnastics in Anaheim. Long Beach now is part of the AVP volleyball tour and hosts several sailing regattas. The annual Long Beach Grand Prix showcases downtown Long Beach each spring. The city lost its popular Ice Dogs minor league hockey team earlier this year.

Anaheim’s teams - hockey’s Anaheim Ducks and baseball’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - each have reached the top of their sports in recent years, bringing the Stanley Cup and World Series trophy to Anaheim.

Last year, a new NBA developmental team, the Arsenal, began play in Anaheim, and it hosts several cheerleading and college basketball tournaments each year.


Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.
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Contact:

Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA
949-497-2680
sdcain31@cox.net
 

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Also See: Pow Wow Brought 4,700 People to Anaheim; Sponsors Spent $5 million to Host Event / Sandi Cain / May 2007
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