Organization welcomed new board members and challenges at its annual membership meeting

Hallie Avolio of Latitude 34 Technologies was handed the gavel Wednesday night as the new president of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
By Sam Goldman, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @Sam__Goldman | January 26, 2017 | 9:20 p.m.

Though business leaders say Goleta’s Old Town neighborhood is a key business and tourism asset for the city, the area made up of long-time mom-and-pop stores could use a facelift.

At its annual membership meeting this week, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce named Old Town revitalization one of its priorities for 2017 as it welcomed its incoming board.

“Old Town Goleta has been just a long-time thing where everyone wants to do something, but there have been a bunch of reasons why we couldn’t,” Dave Clark, 2016’s board chair and the president of Impulse Advanced Communications, told the gathering of business leaders at Ice in Paradise, the city’s recently opened ice-skating center.

But last year, he said, marked the beginning of a concerted effort to “retain the stuff people like about it, and fix the stuff people don’t like about it.”

The Old Town neighborhood, anchored around Hollister Avenue, sits between Fairview Avenue and Highway 217. Despite its diverse array of businesses and services, it’s a little on the shabby side.

Taking over as board president of the Goleta chamber is Hallie Avolio of Latitude 34 Technologies.

“I have a lot of faith we’re going to make some great progress in 2017,” she said of the neighborhood.

Madeleine Vite was honored as Ambassador of the Year by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

As the chamber celebrates its 70th birthday this year, its priorities for 2017 include housing, transportation, infrastructure, water supply, business regulation and workforce development, CEO Kristen Miller said.

Those issues, Avolio said, directly affect the success of the business community.

Marty Plourd, the board’s treasurer and the president and CEO of Community West Bank, which has a branch in Old Town, said revitalizing the neighborhood can pose a dilemma for businesses.

“They’re getting by, they’re doing okay, but some of them are afraid that if the landlords who own the buildings spend a bunch of money to refurbish them, the rents will go up,” he told Noozhawk.

Plourd sits on a chamber working group examining possibilities for revitalization, and said simple fixes like adding flowers around the neighborhood and trimming the trees could begin a gradual facelift that could expand businesses’ customer bases, sales and confidence before more significant measures are taken that could incline landlords to raise their rents.

With more people coming to Goleta to live and work, “we should prepare the downtown to be what we want it to be, and shape it.”

The recently formed Goleta Old Town Community Association has already begun actively recruiting visitors with events such as December’s Christmas parade.

Former Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce board chairman Don Donaldson, left, receives the Chairman’s Award from his successor, 2016 chairman Dave Clark. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The longevity of the area’s mom-and-pop establishments can be chalked up to business owners’ intimate familiarity with their specific trades, said Tony Vallejo, the chamber’s 2013 chair and a former city councilman.

“We have a lot of experienced, savvy business owners down there,” he said.

In addition to welcoming its new board members and recognizing its ambassadors to the community, the chamber bestowed its Chairman’s Award to Don Donaldson of Stantec, who served as president in 2014 and 2015, and the Ambassador of the Year award to professional photographer Madeleine Vite.