By Jim Tortolano
Steve Jones isn’t just the 15th mayor in the history of Garden Grove. He may be, in a sense, the first mayor of the Next Big Thing in the history of the community sometimes called “The Big Strawberry.”
When he’s sworn in on Dec. 13 as the top elected official, he will preside over not only a brand-new seven-member city council whose members were elected for the first time by district, but also a new direction for this city of over 175,000 people.
“I’m very excited,” he said in an interview with the Orange County Tribune. “It couldn’t have worked out any better in terms of the timing. The city has so many exciting things in the works I think there are going to be a lot of accomplishments in the years to come.”
Jones, first appointed to the council in 2007, elected on his own in 2008 and 2012, then running essentially unopposed in the Nov. 8 election, is bullish on the city for a variety of reasons, starting with the municipal management.
“I’m a huge fan of Scott Stiles,” he said, referring to the city manager that came to Garden Grove from Cincinnati. “He’s been here a year and he knows everyone that I know. He’s managed to hit the ground running. He also had praise for Lisa Kim, the city’s new community development director and other leaders at City Hall. “Our entire staff, the collective brain-power. It’s amazing.”
Among the highlights of Jones’ enthusiasm are a continuing boom of hotels and related uses along Harbor Boulevard and a major push at an expanded and revitalized downtown area.
- possible expansion of the Great Wolf water park resort by adding either a “dry park” element with zip-lines, trampolines and other non-damp amusement, or another, unrelated hotel on a vacant spot on the site.
- the Site C project, 4.5 acres just south of the Target store on Harbor, which is planned for two hotel towers and related entertainment uses. “It’s fully-approved,” said Jones. “It’s a done deal. It’s a $450 million project, the biggest ever in the city. For comparison, the Great Wolf was a $285 million deal.”
- renovation and possible expansion of the Hyatt Regency Orange County at Chapman Avenue and Harbor.
Such projects would not only continue the momentum of what’s now called The Grove District of the Anaheim Resort, but also heal the city’s “structural deficit,” said Jones.
In the wake of the abolition of redevelopment, Garden Grove’s city budget has been balanced by dipping into reserves to the tune of almost $5 million a year. But according to Jones, that red ink could be turning soon into a nice pool of the black stuff.
Referring to the Site C project, “It’ll generate millions of dollars just in permitting fees,” he said. “Seven to $15 million.” Additionally, annual tax income for the Great Wolf s expected in 2017 to start pouring $4 to $6 million into municipal coffers.
But don’t expect that to result in many sparkling new amenities for the community. The first priority will be to fix and update aging infrastructure needs such as streets and sewers.
“I would love to say there is some big project like a swimming pool. We’ve got a very active emphasis on rejuvenating our parks,” said Jones. “But we’ve got a very old city. We’ve got to pay attention to the sewer system, the condition of the streets. They’ve probably been neglected over time. We need to address basic services.”
Another focus for Jones will be the city’s downtown area. The original central business district around what is now Main Street and Garden Grove Boulevard has shrunk from its original key role in the history of the community, but Jones wants it to take a much bigger place.
He takes some credit – along with then-Community Development Director Susan Emery – for the “Re:Imagine Garden Grove” effort which started in 2011 as an effort to refocus attention on the old downtown area. That led to the 2014 Open Streets event, which attracted an estimated 10,000 people. “I’d say it was hugely successful,” he said.
His vision for downtown goes much further than the one-block commercial strip along Main Street. The hip developer Shaheen Sadeghi, famous for the AntiMall in Costa Mesa and the Packing House in Anaheim, is working on turning the area east of the Civic Center (north of Garden Grove Boulevard and east of Civic Center Drive) into what’s being termed “Cottage Industries.” That means converting older houses – and in some cases, empty lots – into commercial uses such as eateries, wine bars and mini-breweries, while keeping the existing structures.
But it doesn’t stop here. Jones envisions Garden Grove as a scrappy city, which will be rebranded “from the center out, starting from the downtown. We want to preserve that Mayberry small-town kind of feel,” he said. “We don’t want to become another Irvine.”
But he doesn’t want to set any ideas in stone just yet. “Let’s help people develop an idea of what downtown should be, but one that goes all the way from 9th Street and Nutwood [Street] and from Garden Grove Boulevard to Stanford [Avenue].”
A glittering entertainment corridor – and tax revenue “golden goose” – on Harbor and a growing but down-home downtown. That’s some of what excites the new mayor of Garden Grove.
Categories: Garden Grove