Opinion: Out and Proud – a Plan for Recovery in West Hollywood

The greatest challenge facing our community is economic recovery.

We must find ways to rescue West Hollywood’s hospitality industry and maintain our identity as a vibrant cultural mecca or morph into a bedroom community with hotels turning into condominiums and residential dwellings. The once iconic sunset strip could forever dim and become like the Wilshire Corridor’s Condo Canyon.

Why are we allowing our rainbow crosswalks to fade away, and the Pride Parade to become a distant memory in the shadow of a $200 million behemoth indoor recreation center and shuttered West Hollywood Park?

The park and “indoor” recreation center will not save West Hollywood. It is more likely to become an economic albatross with significant new annual staffing and operating costs adding $5 million to $10 million per year according to staff reports.

While career politicians and political climbers might have been adequate stewards of a thriving pre-COVID economy, clearly, they do not have the skill set to rebuild our devastated one. Consider the recent, inept Council agenda item from John Heilman proposing that the “City work with the film industry to confirm best practices for filming at hotels” and asking “the city to work with the West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board to create a “staycation” campaign.”

After nearly 40 years on City Council and insolated in his million-dollar perch atop La Cienega Boulevard, Mr. Heilman is so out of touch that he doesn’t realize there is no location filming during a pandemic or comprehend why anyone would want to take a staycation in a ghost town.

Great cities are born of dreamers and transformed by innovators and business leaders who invest time and money to attract customers. Politicians come and go, and some just don’t know when to quit, regardless of reputation or relevance.

Economic recovery is the most critical issue and the greatest challenge facing our community. The survival of West Hollywood, as we know it, depends on how we meet this challenge as we see the fallout from the loss of tourism. West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board, the official marketing organization for the city, reported 3.59 million visitors had stopped in West Hollywood, spending $1.73 billion in the fiscal year 2017-2018, according to a study by Destination Analysts.

Nearly one-third of West Hollywood’s annual operating budget is funded by “TOT” Transit Occupancy Taxes from our hotels. Without this almost $40 million, our city faces the loss of funding for social and essential services.

“WEST HOLLYWOOD OUT AND PROUD” A PLAN FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Pride takes the lead in our plan to “Bring Back West Hollywood” and bring visitors back to our hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, and brick-and-mortar retail businesses.

  1. Official designation of Pride Square as a main tourist destination
  2. Formation of an emergency economic recovery task force
  3. Expansion of al fresco dining and open-air festival experiences

OFFICIAL DESIGNATION of PRIDE SQUARE

Officially designate “Pride Square” as the name of the entertainment district commonly referred to as “Boystown.” For decades there has been a conversation about an official and more inclusive designation. This will garner national publicity, and there is no better time for West Hollywood to celebrate and share our Pride with visitors from all over the world.

  • Repaint and add more rainbow crosswalks
  • Create a West Hollywood Pride Walk of Fame with our Rainbow Key Award recipients and program events that are a celebration of Pride, equality, and LGBTQ culture and contributions.

EMERGENCY ECONOMIC RECOVERY TASK FORCE

Organize a broad coalition of restaurant, club, and bar owners, hotel operators, marketing professionals, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Visit West Hollywood, and other stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to promote “new ways to celebrate the West Hollywood experience.”

  • Pride Square and The Sunset Strip as primary areas of focus
  • Facilitate safe reopening of businesses.
  • Expedite permitting and approval process for outdoor dining and retail use.

(While Lisa Vanderpump and David Cooley may raise the ire of some, they are masters in marketing with global outreach and name recognition. Let’s invite them to weigh in as well as Cecconi’s, Catch, Danny Meyer from Shack Shake, Craig’s, the Den, the Viper Room, the Rainbow, Slate House, and all others.)

EXPAND AL FRESCO DINING and OPEN-AIR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCES

  • Expand dining into adjacent rights-of-way as a means to adhere to social distancing requirements.
  • Explore potential options in addition to the use of parklets and parking lots to the closure of travel lanes and full street segments to allow for outdoor dining and retail use.

(As an example, the Palm Springs City Council recently weighed options and ultimately approved a full closure of an 8-block stretch of Palm Canyon Drive downtown to allow businesses to expand their outdoor dining space and serve more customers.

As reported by a local news channel, Council members concluded, a.) It will be so much safer not to have vehicles going through the areas where people are dining out in the street, b.) As more businesses move outdoors, street closures will help keep sidewalks from becoming overcrowded and enable social distancing. c.) The additional foot traffic will also bring more business to retailers.)

I’m not a professional politician, so I don’t bring any political baggage or bias, nor have I curried the favor of special interests by accepting their donations. I owned three restaurants in New York City and developed an internationally acclaimed restaurant company. For the past 15 years, I have successfully managed five apartment communities with 140 rent-stabilized rental apartments in West Hollywood.

With hands-on experience, unbridled enthusiasm, and a skill set as a business leader, I will work hard “for the people, for a change.”

And together, We Will Bring Back West Hollywood! marco4weho.com

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Marco Colantonio
About Marco Colantonio
Marco Colantonio, a candidate in the Nov. 3 City Council election, is a longtime West Hollywood resident and community activist, former West Hollywood Disabilities Advisory Board member and founder/publisher emeritus of WeHoTimes.

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