May 27, 2016 - From the May, 2016 issue

CtrCity: Anaheim’s City Center Urbanized and Now Revitalized

Anaheim is home to Disneyland and California Adventure, two world-class theme parks that push the boundaries of the imagination. Downtown Anaheim has followed suit in recent projects that have inspired major investment in  “foodie districts” and urban live/work spaces. In this TPR interview, John Woodhead, Director of Community & Economic Development for City of Anaheim, discusses recent growth and impact of the dissolution of redevelopment.


John Woodhead

“We finally agreed it should be CtrCity. It always had been the core of (Anaheim), and through our revitalization it was once again becoming the core for our city. ” —John Woodhead

The economic value of Disneyland to the City of Anaheim is nationally recognized. But the revitalization of Anaheim’s city center is increasingly newsworthy. Please update our readers. 

John Woodhead: We were fortunate in that we had come quite a ways through redevelopment with the revitalization of our Downtown. 

To give you background on what happened here, we had some misguided forefathers way back when that thought it would be a good idea to bulldoze away 100 acres of some precious, historical structures, with sundry uses, and we’ve been devoting the last 25-30 years to atone for those sins by making best use of the remaining, very valuable assets. 

Our first redevelopment project involved our Canyon Business Center as the economic engine. The tax-increment generated from that particular area in the city was used to invest in our Downtown, mostly in infrastructure. We sought to do a couple of things: repopulate the Downtown, make it interesting, and come up with compelling reasons why people would want to be here after 5 p.m. We looked to create synergies among an increased residential population, downtown office users, and then, of course, a commercial retail experience that people would enjoy.  Again, we were fortunate in that in the death throes of redevelopment, we had already a contractual commitment to revitalize our Packing House – a true landmark – and we were able to follow through with that. Really, that’s been the capstone of our redevelopment efforts here in CtrCity.

Anaheim’s 1919 Packing House revival seems to be a catalyst for CtrCity Revitalization. How so? 

We conducted a number of neighborhood charrettes several years ago—we’ve done those from time to time, most recently in 2007—and asked the stakeholders in the city, “What is something very important that we should do in the CtrCity?” The 1919 Mission Revival Packing House, one of very few left in Orange County, was key in everybody’s mind.

We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do with it, but we knew we wanted to preserve it. So we engaged in a painstaking rehabilitation, believing that as we got on with the project, we’d identify the best use to suit our revitalization plans.

A very interesting part of that building is the interior. We knew we wanted the public to share in that compelling feature. We considered and rejected doing residential or commercial office, for fear that that would exclude large portions of the public. We finally settled on an innovative retail endeavor. We brought in Shaheen Sadeghi with LAB Holding and asked, “What do you think we should do with this incredible building?” When we realized the final idea it seemed obvious: The Packing House should be a communal food hall, with 28 artisan vendors (not chain retailers) plying their wares in that magnificent interior space.

Upon the completion of the Packing House project in May 2014, Anaheim rebranded the area “CtrCity.” Why?

We have struggled with naming this area. 

It’s actually the original colony. The city was founded in 1857, when we were part of L.A. County. The “Historic Colony District” was North, South, East, and West Streets—the original grid pattern. So The Colony was one name for this particular area. Other people referred to it as “Downtown,” but when you Google “Downtown Anaheim,” you immediately get Downtown Disney. We realized that in the marketplace there was a great deal of confusion, or lack of understanding, about what we were. 

We thought, “It’s old, but we’re weaving exciting, new uses into that old historic fabric, so it’s more than the colony.” We finally agreed it should be CtrCity. It always had been the core of our city, and through our revitalization it was once again becoming the core for our city. And so CtrCity it was.

In your efforts to urbanize CtrCity, is the City of Anaheim abandoning the suburban planning “ethos” of Orange County?

A lot of Orange County decidedly likes an urban experience. They don’t have it in certain parts of Orange County. When you go to South County today it’s still quite suburban. 

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But we are Orange County’s first city, after all. And the idea of an infill development that is very urban has great appeal. It’s denser residential built out onto the hard corners. It’s a different scale that we’re developing here. It’s a mix of office buildings and lively, activated streets with the commercial retail experience. 

More than 10 years ago, TPR published “Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle Through the Eyes of Mayor Pringle,” which focused on Angel Stadium. Distinguish CtrCity’s vision from the past.

There still is a Platinum Triangle. It’s about a mile and a half from CtrCity. In the center of the Platinum Triangle, of course, is Angel Stadium. We have the Honda Center there as well. 

The vision back then was of a Downtown for Orange County.  Now, we are exploring with The Angels the idea of a much denser type of experience—almost a second entertainment district for Anaheim—around the stadium itself. It would be the type of density we originally envisioned for the Platinum Triangle. In contrast, CtrCity has always been about serving our indigenous population first, although it has bloomed into a very popular regional attraction.

We have a number of residents in the community who find historical preservation to be of the utmost concern. We have tried to create a core in our CtrCity that is very authentically Anaheim, especially for those residents. We have a real “maker” culture here, including many of the Disney imagineers that live right here in our central core. Rather than create an entertainment district as was planned for the Platinum Triangle around the stadium, we envisioned this as a cultural core and gathering place, created first and foremost for our current community.

Let’s go back to the impact of the dissolution of redevelopment. How does the absence of redevelopment impact what the city is able or unable to do?

First, let me give you the raw numbers behind the dissolution.  We were receiving, on an annual basis, $47 million in property tax increment. That number was only growing, as we had finally reached maturity in our first project area and were approaching a mature stage in a couple others. When we look at that $47 million annually that we lost, that was about $1.3 billion over time to the city, and that was gone. That was a significant blow. 

We’ve heard that Sacramento thinks that they have recreated redevelopment, or “redevelopment 2.0” or whatever people call it. But there isn’t another redevelopment program, and Sacramento to date hasn’t offered anything that has been of any utility whatsoever to the City of Anaheim. We were fortunate that when the agency was dissolved, we were very land-rich. 

We actually have, from the legacy of the redevelopment agency, some fairly significant assets for affordable-housing redevelopment. What we don’t have, though, is the revenue stream that we enjoyed under redevelopment. That makes it very difficult because it removes the ability to bond against revenue and raise capital for heavy investing. It creates a challenge in regards to the other redevelopment duties we want to undertake, and have undertaken in the past. 

I’m getting ready to propose to our city council that we not only take the land-sale proceeds that the city is going to be entitled to under the dissolution process, but look at allocating the tax-increment revenue over and above what we need for general services to a new redevelopment fund, pursuant to which we could pursue redevelopment activities—primarily on the west side of the city, but just as we did under the old redevelopment program. 

My staff is trying to establish a locally controlled increment financing mechanism that doesn’t require the property tax increments that we obtained from the other taxing entities in old redevelopment. This would be money coming to the city solely on these projects that we would induce on the redevelopment legacy asset properties.

Lastly, housing supply is topping all agendas. Brookfield Residential has developed Anaheim’s Domain. Is the latter a housing model for Anaheim- a city with little open land?

Brookfield Residential has been an amazing, long-term partner. They stuck with us through the downturn and built out Colony Park and The Domain. We are looking to do more work with them in the future. But for Anaheim, we have to take care of our aging housing stock. The future of affordable housing in Anaheim is focusing on the acquisition and rehab of some of this deteriorating housing stock and making it affordable through tax-credit deals. Overall, we have incredible property assets – the success of The Packing House and CtrCity showed us what we could do with them.

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.