By Alfredo Santana
MONTEBELLO — Jose Gardea, the city’s economic development manager, recently unveiled a plan aimed at growing the city’s commercial footprint, revitalizing legacy shops and spurring sales.
A lot of the plan hinges on support from the city’s own resources, and a revision of its general plan.
Gardea’s Economic, Development and Prosperity Action Plan, presented to the City Council May 10, underscores his interest in persuading new corporate retailers to set up shop in Montebello, encouraging small business owners to become more savvy when it comes to internet commerce and addressing disinvestment and lack of public attention in sections like South Montebello.
With only seven months on the job, Gardea vowed to meet with top corporate retailers and marketers, report to the council on invitations to consider the city for potential expansions and make it easier for small business owners to run new and established operations.
Gardea also noted that the city should leverage resources to support, encourage and guide micro and small outlets struggling in a business environment dependent on online sales, food and parcel deliveries, and customer reviews on sites like Yelp, eBay, Facebook and Bing.
Although he received accolades from council members following his report, the task ahead is complex.
The city suffers from limited available land to host big box stores like Home Depot or Walmart and the proposed plan to offer financial and tech assistance with city funds remains filed.
In addition, lingering political animosity may run counter to portions of Gardea’s plan. City Manager Rene Bobadilla recently resigned after being absent from all City Council meetings this year after suffering from an undisclosed illness.
Gardea spoke recently about his touted economic plan, how a history of disinvestment may pose unforeseen challenges, how the city can overcome marketplace shortsightedness and the lack of past leadership, and how micro and small businesses should embrace online presence to increase sales and thrive.
AS: You may be aware that 40 years ago, the Montebello Shopping Center was built with the expectation that it would become the city’s financial savior. What role does the Montebello Shopping Center play in the economic prosperity plan? Can its layout and location bear to anchor a big box retailer like Home Depot, Vons or even a Latino grocery store like Superior Market? Would any of these corporate retailers be a good fit?
JG: The Shops at Montebello are an independent retail operation. The city has no direct input in their business planning and objectives. But we do appreciate their collaboration and cooperation in helping us promote city programs and activities when necessary. In April 2022, the Shops at Montebello was placed under new management with Centennial Real Estate. Your question is best addressed by their organization.
AS: The city has room for warehousing and groceries in South Montebello, but not too many residents live there, hence retailers may be reluctant to build a store in that area. Is there a plan for an economic revival of South Montebello? Sixty years ago, the commercial center of the city was Whittier and Montebello boulevards. Now if you walk one block away in any direction there is not much there.
JG: There is ample opportunity for all parts of Montebello to be part of our economic revitalization in the coming years. Both of our draft general plan update and the Downtown Montebello Specific Plan spell out innovative opportunities for the development and investment communities to contribute to our city’s growth. With the MTA’s approval of the Gold Line extension along Washington Boulevard and the light rail station at Washington Boulevard and Greenwood Avenue, we have an opportunity to re-imagine the growth patterns for the neighborhoods south of the downtown area. We anticipate engaging with residents, businesses and stakeholders to further elaborate the benefits that could derive from the future transit-oriented district on Washington Boulevard.
AS: For the last 30 years, the city has lacked leadership and vision in supporting and encouraging micro, small businesses and corporate retailers to invest and grow their footprint. What do you think has changed in the last year or so that resulted in your hiring? Is there the political will to support a fresh and creative vision to start with a new economic perspective?
JG: We are unable to comment on any issues from previous administrations and how they made decisions pertaining to economic development. However, in the past three years, under the leadership of City Manager Bobadilla and his management team, there has been a concerted effort to address long lagging concerns in this area. The key demonstration of this is reflected in the updating of Montebello’s general plan and all its specific elements. This task has not been addressed since 1973. Now that the general plan [is] well towards being updated, there is a blueprint for Montebello to begin the long overdue effort to address current and future opportunities for economic development.
AS: You said the disrupting nature of online shopping already decimated Sears, K-Mart, and has brought JC Penney to its knees. How important is it for small entrepreneurs to pivot to online marketing to attract a new wave of younger, middle class customers? And how can the city leverage its potential with resources and guidance to help these small entrepreneurs thrive and even succeed against corporate retailers and restaurants that now deliver goods and foods?
JG: The rapid advance of technology and online shopping has changed the retail and small business landscape in many significant ways. It’s vital that the city’s current and future small business operators and entrepreneurs adapt to market forces more quickly than they’ve historically experienced. Digital consumer engagement through mobile and online options is critical. But there are excellent examples of local Montebello businesses who understand and are doing this. Market Boulevard food collective and Angry Horse Brewing are two of them in the heart of downtown Montebello. They are combining social experiences with food and drink options that include onsite/online/to go/delivery ordering along with onsite entertainment and events to engage and attract younger audiences with experiential offerings they want.