In August of 2013, the City Council of Dana Point approved plans to move forward with a multi-staged plan to rejuvenate a downtown area and create a new “Town Center”. The central part of town is known as the “Lantern District”, and it’s been a 3 year process to bring the area to a place where many residents and visitors are left scratching their heads.
With approval of the Coastal Commission, the city moved into Phase A thru E, and has now completed the bulk of the “Town Center”. While the completed project marks a big step towards a more urban and tourist friendly Dana Point, the public is still unsure of the practicality and success of this project. Dana point has a large tourism attraction, but in many cases it is overlooked by its two neighbors which attract much larger crowds.
The council wanted a downtown, but a downtown is nothing without its businesses and attractions. 3 years later, the area is lacking a diversity of businesses and the few restaurants that have sprung up are yet to indicate any kind of large scale shift. On any given summer day, during peak visitor season, the Lantern District will have empty benches, bike-less bike racks, and empty lots with growing weeds. The infrastructure for a pleasant downtown is now in place, the problem is that there is no downtown. The Council assumed that creating an appearance that gives the area some history, and a sense of place would be helpful, but all of these things do nothing if the wrong businesses are in the area.
Seeing real estate brokers, attorney offices, and non hospitality driven businesses, the downtown lacks the attraction. In 2016, with exception to the few restaurants, the district is simply a good looking business district. Until the previous businesses realize the proper use for their locations and move out, this area will remain a relatively empty stretch. It’s imperative that the small restaurant scene to the north and south, expand and pave the way for similar tourist attractions, or else the plans effectiveness will fall flat on its face.
The answer as to whether or not Dana Point’s “Lantern District” is a success, lies in the future. If over the course of several years, new businesses are able to take root that cater to the tourist market, then the pedestrian walkways and benches will be filled. If no changes are made to the types of business in the district, its likely our benches and bike racks will remain empty for years to come.
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