Retorts: New birth in the old home town

A NEW Smart & Final Extra opened this week in Garden Grove, the latest in a series of retail additions to the community (OC Tribune photo).

A decade or so ago, the city launched a public relations campaign for the Big Strawberry called “Renaissance Garden Grove.” It was well-intentioned but clunky, and never really got much traction.

But now it looks like a real rebirth is happening in the city. Not only are there a bunch of exciting things coming down the pipeline, but we’re already seeing new stuff arising that adds to the appeal and livability of the community. May I point out:

  • Bond issues for the Garden Grove Unified School District are resulting not just in essential but mundane modernizations such as new plumbing and electrical work, but also in the upgrading or replacement of such much-used facilities as football stadiums at Garden Grove and Bolsa Grande high schools, and the 1500-seat Don Wash Auditorium.
  • A focus on the downtown-civic center area is drawing in a fistful of new development, including new Starbucks at Euclid Street and Garden Grove Boulevard, the Cottage Industries project east of Civic Center Drive, the Steelcraft urban eateries center approved Tuesday night by the city council, a mixed-use project on the site of the old Craig’s coffee shop and more.
  • A big upsurge in retail and related uses. There’s now a Smart & Final Extra opened at Katella and Euclid with a Gold’s Gym coming nearby. The Aldi’s supermarket is operating to impressive results at The Promenade at Chapman and Brookhurst in a center which is humming with activity in a way not seen since the Sixties.
  • Hotel and restaurant development is set to boom again. There are no fewer than four major hotels on the drawing boards for Harbor Boulevard, which will draw in more eating places as well. The Great Wolf resort is so hugely successful that the operators are enthusiastic about expanding to add hundreds of new rooms and other features.
  • The OC Streetcar project continues to roll ahead with a start of construction contemplated for 2018 and a beginning of operation in 2020. The biggest local transit project in Orange County will link central Santa Ana to a depot in Garden Grove on Harbor north of Westminster Boulevard. If successful, the next logical phase of the streetcar project would be to continue the route north on Harbor with the potential to run up to Disneyland and/or Angel Stadium and the Honda Center. If Anaheim doesn’t want any part of that, well, the streetcar could turn east on Chapman and connect with both the Christ Cathedral, The Outlets at Orange and UC Irvine Medical Center.
  • A bike- and pedestrian-friendly series of paths and lanes are on the drawing board (with funding in place) that will make scooting around town easier and safer for Grovers who choose to pedal or walk to their favorite places.

Now, of course, not all is rosy in Garden Grove. Like most cities today, homelessness and crime are on the rise, and there are places you cringe to look at. The “rusty skeleton” on Garden Grove Boulevard is one such eyesore. Additionally, residents on the west side are concerned about vacancies in commercial areas in their “downtown” on Valley View Street.

But overall, there’s been a surge in good news and good feelings I haven’t seen since the days when I rode a bike instead of drove a car. Many people, and not a few journalists, tend to focus on the negative in this world. But right now, in this place and time, the good news is that there’s finally a lot of good news here. Renaissance 2.0.

Jim Tortolano has lived in Garden Grove since 1960. He was a personal friend of Alonzo Cook.

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