Tourism in Long Beach

Written by Francis X. McQuade

What is the better vision for Long Beach:  as a tourist destination or as a residential community?

Either view has its merits.  But I believe that to insure long-term solvency, stability and prosperity, the City must select one view or the other as its preferential option.  Once selected, policies and practices must be shaped consistent with that option.

Despite its seashore assets, Long Beach has lagged in its potential as a tourist destination.  Tailoring City priorities to promote tourism would bring new money into town and would enhance the value of property. Greater renown would attract “clean industry” so that the type and scope of a Lancer’s would be the norm rather than the exception.  Growth in tourism would buttress local employment and allay the need to keep raising taxes by broadening the tax base.

To be a tourist destination would require the development of Boardwalk businesses (and conversely to overcome the anticipated complaints of high rise residents to have to “share their space.”  Long Beach would need a marina and seafood restaurants.  The Incinerator site would be part of a development plan as a perfect place for a bay-front nautical village (clearing Brownsfield concerns and anticipating demands of North Park neighborhoods for “affordable housing” and overcoming the community’s inertia of coming into North Park for new business.)

How about a bait and tackle shop (even a small concession at the Magnolia Pier?)  The West End streets could beset up for “sea-shore chic” with brick sidewalk curbing and nautical-motif lampposts.  The Superblock must finally be developed.  Discussions on casinos would eventually have to enter the discussion and should begin now.

Tax incentives and relief is part of the bait to attract private investment.  City Hall would have to be prepared to enforce illegal housing ordinance in anticipation of an uptick on rental values in a successful tourist venue. Licenses for B&B’s and tourist boarding houses can start again.

I would hope the City would handle issues of eminent domain responsibly and at all times reasonably safeguard delicate environmental considerations. Such would be the challenge to balance.

Others may prefer the residential community option.  Tourism brings traffic and transiency.  Re the police as constituted capable to handling such a new constituency?  The input of residential constituents would necessarily challenged by a commitment to tourism and there may be opposition by long-time residents who will perpetually recall “a quieter Long Beach.”

But it seems to me that Long Beach must outgrow its insular mentality.  The “old-family” inertia to which political leadership is wed if not held hostage must give way.  Long Island in general and Long Beach in particular are by-products of preferences for small community and history of thinking locally. Its population is static and aging.  It’s time to move on and think out of the box.  Forget the anti-growth, anti-market buzz word of “sustainability” that many carpet-bagging NFP organizations throw about and think of potential in a free market.

Caught in a vortex of never-ending school taxes and rising City taxes, we need new revenue and a wider tax base.

Obviously, a new Long Beach has to distance itself from its culture of political corruption and patron age.  The genius and the investment revenues of outsiders and of partisans of both political parties should find a welcome. To the extent the Community Reconstruction Program enlisted a committee of retreads and partisans was not a good start to a serious culture of change.

Obviously as well, a healthy City policy that attends to both tourist and residential concerns is not entirely mutually exclusive.  But no dabbling allowed!  This disastrous dabbling was illustrated by the 2011 Quicksilver fiasco.  The City took on hosting a surfing tournament of international scope only to ham-handedly pull back its scope and cancel events when they got heat from some well-heeled residents.  The City must declare a clear priority statement and then pursue it rigorously.  Perhaps the option can be put to the electorate through a ballot referendum.

In my opinion, the time has come to unleash the giant and to make the Long Beach miracle happen.

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25 thoughts on “Tourism in Long Beach”

  1. Casino’s! Tourist boarding houses!! Are you mad! We have enough problems with transients and crime as it is and you suggest to introduce more! Stopping the illegal housing is a good idea that Noone seems willing to enforce, which sucks cause it is totally unfair to the law abiding tax payers.

  2. Been there,done that. Long Beach WAS the tourist destination through the 1910’s ballroom dancing craze, through the 1920’s real estate frenzy and into the Prohibition. Fortunes were made by connected fat cats plying booze and gambling dens.

    When it was over, the 1940’s brought the boom of 30,000 sailors stationed in Lido Beach.

    Crime and corruption ran wild, but it sure was a fun place to visit.

    There’s a delicate balance in serving the needs of residents as well as courting the dollars of the day trippers and summer crowds. It’s hard to please everyone and very easy to cause real damage if not carefully planned and managed.

    With the demise of local downtown shopping areas nationwide, Long Beach is blessed with a natural alternative to attract patrons and feed our tax base.

    Frank is correct when he says that the cronyism in government must give way to those with vision and expertise. This opportunity has passed many times before, but was met with corruption and bad decision.

    The 60’s brought us a Chinese Wall of apartment lining the beach and a parking meter scandal. The 70’s brought thousands of mental patients and low income housing.

    Don’t let opportunity pass us by for one more decade. If we do, more harm than good will once again beset Long Beach.

  3. Frank,
    I asked this on another thread, is it possible for you to quantify how increased “tourism”(which I personally think Eddie more accurately describes what we have down in LB when he says “day trippers”) benefits the residents of Long Beach? You also said the city should “promot(ing) tourism would bring new money into town and would enhance the value of property”. Where specifically would that “new money” go and also where would it come from? And would that “new money” benefit residents and how so? And how would increased “tourism” enhance the value of my property?

  4. Captain, you raise the right question: what’s the value vs. the cost of tourism? There are several cities/states/countries that have undertaken tourism studies, but the one I like is from Santa Monica…a beachfront town that has been asking (and answering) this question since 1983.

    Go to http://www.santamonica.com/local-community/value-of-tourism/ and you can get a report on the $ involved and how they measure value.

    They summarize key bemefits this way:
    Santa Monica 2013 Tourism by the Numbers
    ■7.3 million visitors come to Santa Monica each year from outside of LA County.
    ■1.63 billion dollars is generated by tourism each year to our local economy.
    ■12,908 jobs are supported by tourism in Santa Monica.
    ■80% of hotel visitors do not use a car once they arrive in Santa Monica.

    But click the link to the 2-page summary since it shows the $ components e.g. how much revenue from hotels, restaurants etc. and a detailed report goes into costs as well.

    Of course this study and others also need to consider non-$ factors (e.g. change in arrests, parking availability, resident satisfaction) to assess the total value.

    I’m impressed with the initial write-up from Francis, as well as the comments and history from Eddie and Captain Obvious. I plan to bring this issue to the City Planners in the near future. However, I’d like to speak with you guys to get your views on this issue before I do that.

    If you’re interested in seeing if/how LB can conduct a similar study call me at 917-312-1219. Ed

  5. Good question, Captain! It would be a thin line between raising your values and lowering them. Bringing people to Long Beach who like it, have a few bucks and want to buy your house will raise your values.

    Busing people here who have no money, drink lots of beer, reel about pissing in your bushes and sleeping on the beach will lower your values.

    Some tourist interest would raise commercial value and taxes, which should lower your residential taxes and raise your value. Unless it led to more government spending.

    Actually I believe the last few administrations, Democrat and Republican, have struck a fair balance, perhaps only by luck.

  6. Frank, the only way to stop the status quo or stop the opportunity train from leaving the station is to literally remove everyone from their position of power and every insider. Can that really happen? Long Beach is on a precipice. You’re right, school taxes are ballooning, operational costs and thus taxes are skyrocketing with no viable way to curtail them. City streets, drainage pipes and most other infrastructure is in abysmal condition to the tune of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no plan. We put band-aids on a leper. People think that black metal garbage can ad space, hot dog trucks, carpeted plywood mini-golf, and a two dozen Christmas lights in the shape of a lobsters and candy canes (billed as a holiday light show) on the boardwalk is proof that the city is on the comeback trail. City taxes were already raised 3 times, the school tax is up, enrollment down but they still expand the building and build multi-million dollar redundant stadiums. Unless someone can can up with a development plan from Magnolia to the the Hospital (which let slip away), I’m afraid we’re doomed.

  7. You moved to one of the nicest beaches in America, located near densely populated areas, including one of the busiest and densely populated cities in the world, and, who would’ve guessed, the people there they like to come to beach in the summer.

    Me thinks many of y’all were once tourists and day trippers who said “I want to live here.” And if you think turning tourists away is going to solve your RE problems, I think you need to rethink that.

    As far as the “what do tourists do for the residents of this here town,” – you think any of your favorite bars and restaurants would be here were it not for the summers? Go ask them what keeps them afloat.

  8. I admit I’m ambivalent on this one. If the people who live here and pay taxes (not a City Council filled by real estate interests) opt for expanding tourism it should be very carefully planned. It can be done in a way that isn’t disruptive. Think The Hamptons vs Jersey Shore. One need not go too far to see how other places have turned around, Sayville, Patchogue, Riverhead were all suffering blight but have invested the time and money to become thriving destinations. I think using Santa Monica as a template is a bit of a stretch as it is one of the wealthiest cities in CA and there is very little mix of tourism and residential and it was planned that way.

    But you also must be prepared to have life as we know it radically altered. The overbuilding we are already experiencing is a big drain on our resources. Adding highrise buildings simply adds more strain and demand for services.

    Adding business willy nilly along the boardwalk which, IMO would be disruptive to the residents, most of whom are homeowners just as much as Mr. McQuade and Eddie are. Instead of more apartments, why not think of the Superblock as a focal point, a true hub of the beach community, with dining and shops, perhaps a small theater, something like the Paramont in Huntington, which could be an offseason draw.

    Whichever way we go, aesthetics should be a big part of the planning. The one thing commercial LB is seriously lacking is charm. Our business districts do not reflect the same feeling as our carefully tended residential areas. Some efforts have been made in the West End now the center of town and the East End must follow their lead.

  9. Santa Monica can in no way be compared to Long Beach. First, the population is twice the size of Long Beach. More important, it has a 12-month balmy beach season, not 3 months like here. Santa Monica has 310 days of sunshine a year. It has thousands of thriving, tax-paying businesses, the top category being “Professional, Scientific, & Technical Services.” (Not bars.) Hope folks read the Wikipedia entry on Santa Monica to see how opposite it is to our area.

    A much closer comparison would be Atlantic City, in terms of population and climate. Besides allowing gambling, government subsidies and tax breaks poured million of dollars into Atlantic City. Outsiders took out many millions in profits, and now the city is falling apart. They tried and failed to make it a “year-round destination” instead of a prosperous summer beach town.

    Can anyone think of *any* northeast “resort” that brings people in year round? The most “northern” I can think of are Bermuda and maybe South Carolina. We can’t compare our attractions to South California, Florida, or Hawaii.

    But yes, we can compare ourselves to Atlantic City. It’s history is remarkably similar to Long Beach. Take a minute to read this article called “Atlantic City Falls from Glittering Resort to Bargain Basement”-

    http://www.npr.org/2014/10/04/353650702/atlantics-city-falls-from-glittering-resort-to-filenes-basement

    And the Revel Casino was supposed to be the final peg in making Atlantic City a year-round resort. Bankrupt, sold for pennies on the dollar-

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/nyregion/revel-casino-in-atlantic-city-is-sold-to-real-estate-company.html?_r=0

    And of course, those years of “success,” when AC glittered, just resulted in high crime and poverty. You can see the long-term “tourism” results in areas like Asbury Park. Even places like Mystic CT have failed as winter attractions. Riverhead built an Aquarium to draw tourists… seriously?

    I think people have mentioned some good ideas and will come up with more, and observations like Eddie’s are important. But looking to Santa Monica for ideas doesn’t make it.

  10. Does the City make a net profit from beach admission fees? I’ve “heard” that the City loses money on every beach admission, but I’m hoping that’s an “urban legend.” I know there are benefits that can’t be quantified, like P.R. But I think whether the beach is a source of profits or a “loss leader” should be the first question in any cost/benefit analysis as suggested above, even if it’s just an informal analysis to start.

  11. The ideas you put forth are of course very attractive. If we had the capital to build a nautical village replete with brick sidewalks and themed lampposts where seafood restaurants and shops coexisted would they (the “giant”) come? The iStar plans included boardwalk businesses. I wish them success. I hope they are busy year round.

    With the success of a very good restaurant in Point Lookout, which just turned one, congratulations, we see the one good restaurant in the East End of town closing at the end of this week.

    Will The Park, Sutton and Brixx survive the winter? Can the center of town sustain 3 similarly situated/themed restaurants over this winter?

    Casinos?? Not appealing. Between Yonkers and CT we would not be able to compete. I have not seen the gambling boats at the draw bridge, what happened there besides the heist complete with shotguns? If this is what the Republicans are touting for this election cycle, the Dems will be dancing in the streets. (I am Republican.)

    You call the Community Reconstruction Program committee retreads and partisans. I was on that committee and find your characterization of the committee laughable. The meetings were open to the public and we easily engaged all who attended. I have not met you, though I know what you look like from your pictures in the paper speaking into a bullhorn. The person holding that bullhorn sat in just about every meeting we held, front row, taking attendance and notes. In fact she tried everything short of self-immolation to get a seat on the committee. To my knowledge we did not get a single idea from her.

    I do appreciate all that the Westholme Civic is trying to accomplish. As civic leaders you are active in the community and I hope that continues.

    The spark that you cite that could start and fuel this growth plan is to offer tax incentives and increase enforcement in regards to housing issues. The events of the past weeks have shown that enforcement should be focused on illegal guns and drugs as a priority now or all of the plans above for a marina and businesses will never happen. For the City to ask the residents to shoulder the cost of the build out of new infrastructure would mean that the plans for the future state would need to be very clear and show how the residents would benefit.

    All of that infrastructure building without requiring the direct beneficiaries to kick in their fair share of taxes will result in another tax increase to the residents. This goes against your stated goal of reducing the “ballooning” taxes we already pay.

    I agree that planning is required now. We do not have a choice. We should be talking about tourism and how we want to be positioned. We need to have an identity and should play to our strengths as a community. We are an active group. We are diverse. Capital will determine what shops and restaurants are opened here. Our approach and theme will be determined by the people that come out and participate in the process. It is already happening.

    The report from the CRP Committee with recommendations was submitted months ago and decisions as to what projects get funded are in the hands of the State. We need to be out as a community to help guide the finishing touches to whatever aspect of the projects that get funded. I hope to see you there and look forward to meeting you. We can work together.

  12. Hey Bob, sorry if I gave you the impression I was comparing LB and Santa Monica as cities. The purpose of my email was to say that there are many cities/states/countries that try to calculate the value vs the cost of tourism. Santa Monica has a good format.

    LB needs a process/format of its own (maybe referencing other existing models as a starting point).

    Not only do I agree with you that Santa Monica and LB are not similar, in fact, I don’t think any one city’s situation is similar to ours. If you try to suggest others that are similar you’ll hear many people tell you why they’re not.

    Instead I think a statistically valid survey of Long Beach residents (owners and renters), business owners and visitors is needed to find out what we want our city to be. Use the survey results as one part of an updated Master Plan, one which defines strategy, states specific goals and plans, and identifies the costs and benefits, as well as funding sources, over the next 10 years.

    Let’s do it the right way this time, imbedding the people’s voice in the planning decisions.

  13. Larry, I want to ask about the CRP committee. I think Mr. McQuade’s generalization of “… a committee of retreads and partisans…” was a bit harsh on its face value, but what were the qualifiers in choosing LB members? The NYS Toolkit for selecting a committee asked for the following –
    •Planning experts;
    •Hazard mitigation experts;
    •Local zoning experts;
    •Economic development experts;
    •Local Waterfront Revitalization Program manager;
    •Representatives of commercial, environmental, housing, and human services organizations;
    •Representatives of vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities, low and very-low income populations, the elderly, young children, homeless and people at risk of becoming homeless;
    •Transportation experts;
    •Public works experts familiar with water or sewer systems;
    •Representatives of the parks department; and
    •Emergency management personnel.

    Which one of those criteria did you represent? And the women you spoke of, the one that “tried everything short of self-immolation to get a seat on the committee”. Did you ask her for any ideas? Who is she?

  14. Thanks Ed. I understand that you were saying we might learn from the *tools* other towns use to assess the true benefits of tourism. We certainly need to develop some kind of valid assessment. I was just worried about errors in scale when you mentioned Santa Monica as a place whose tools might be good for us. That seems something like taking the method a bus driver uses to take a head count on a school bus and adapting that method to taking a head count on a 747. The massive difference in scale makes me think other areas more like ours might teach us more.

    I think your basic point is crucial- we need some facts and numbers before we talk about any “master plan” for the barrier isle. Thanks for your ongoing contributions to this discussion. It’s obvious you really care about the future of this great place.

  15. C.A.V.E – If you’ve had any experience with the myriad branches of NY Rising (of which CRP is one), you’ll understand that about as soon as a document or policy is finalized, it subject to change.

    Most of the criteria listed above wound up being furnished by the consultants the state hired to help lead the process. In our instance, it was URS, LiRo and state planners/issue area experts.

    The role of the committee was to craft a vision for resiliency, identify vulnerabilities and then work with the consultant teams to develop projects that would best address the vulnerabilities with the limited resources potentially available to us ($25 million).

    While many committee members were chosen in part for the skill set they brought to the table (I have a background in planning, environmental issues and am an expert on the larger issues facing the LI region (ps, i’ve made a career of being non-partisan), Larry has a strong environmental background, John Bendo is a nuclear engineer, etc…), they were also chosen so as to represent as broad a cross-section of the community as possible – geographically, ethnically and yes, even politically (the latter coming with the caveat of being pragmatic).

    While I think Mr. McQuade only threw that line in there because he wanted to ‘stir the pot’ to some degree, I can tell first hand that collectively, our committee put in hundreds of volunteer hours as part of this process and the only agenda was to protect our city and its residents as best we could. Not once, were politics mentioned nor did they ever come into play. Mr. McQuade would have known this if he bothered to show up to any of our dozen or so public meeting (where any and all questions/suggestions were welcome) or even bothered to chime in on the facebook page we set up to help keep the public engaged with what we were doing.

    Should he or anyone else wish to discuss the process or the proposals that resulted from it, I’d be more than happy to make myself available.

    John McNally
    Co-Chair, LB CRP

    FYI….the City Council will be voting on an item tonight that allows the City Manager to negotiate a contract with the State that will allow funding for the proposed projects to finally start flowing. I’ll be there in support of it if anyone wants to find and chat me up.

  16. The City loses money on tourism – the business owners make a fortune off it, but what does that mean to us? Unless you own a bar or a restaurant, etc. The City needs direct taxes on tourism, or gross receipts business taxes that benefit from tourism, to offset the burdens tourism places on taxpayers residents. But that is not the system Long Beach has – just keep piling up new events, attracting more tourists, and hand the bill and the quality of life degradations to the resident taxpayers. And a majority of residents cheer it on.

  17. John, thank you for your reply and the hundreds of volunteer hours. I’m not sure Mr. McQuade was seeking to stir the pot as you put it. I think he was pointing out how things typically get done/assigned in this town. You said you were all chosen for the committee. Chosen how and by whom? Was there a well publicized campaign to recruit the best and brightest in Long Beach? While you may be more than qualified,what does a “strong environmental background” resume read like?. Might there have been a practicing civil, mechanical, or architectural engineer living in Long Beach? Having as nuclear engineer may not be any better than having a biomedical or robotics engineer. What actually qualified the others on your committee? Ok, so 25 million dollars is actually chump change as far as the problems of Long Beach looking ahead at it’s future are concerned, but if we are to undertake a grand change, we have to move way beyond the patronage, the re-treads, and the public at large that dabbles in issues.

  18. @neutron – that probably has more to do with overpaying people to work and inefficiency in lb governement than because tourism is bad for the area.

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