- RLn Staff
By Greggory Moore, Contributing Writer
Pine Ave. Pour, which happens in downtown Long Beach this Saturday, was to have been the first event in “Party on Pine” series, monthly events orchestrated by a new breed of local difference-makers. But the Green Prix, an eco-friendly alternative to the Grand Prix happening seven blocks away, came first. The stars simply aligned differently, an alignment exemplifying a local greenthink that isn’t about just environmentalism or money: it’s about both.
It’s April, the Saturday of Grand Prix weekend, and so you might think what’s happening on North Pine Avenue is related to what is annually one Long Beach’s biggest events. But looking around, you don’t see tourists, nor do you find anything related to burning rubber and petrol.
But North Pine is rarely this activated, so you know something’s up. I wander around for a while, people-watching and checking out the live music and the variety of products and information on display. The vibe is hippie, to be sure, but I already know that this event, the Green Prix, has tie-ins to some heavy-hitters in the Long Beach business community.
Michelle Molina of Millworks, the development company that is transforming the former Press-Telegram building into the first of a couple of “build-to-suit” projects that will soon infuse North Pine with 1,200 new employees, is one of those sluggers, and I run into her at “A Lot,” the open space between 6th and 7th Streets that is the spot for a farm-to-table dinner featuring local produce.
“This really started as Mike and I contemplating, like, a rockabilly/beer thing,” she says of the Green Prix happening all around us as we speak. “And then Jeff brought Stella, and the four of us sat on the couch, and it became bigger than life.”
She’s referring Mike Wylie of Park Bixby, Jeff Williams of Leadership Long Beach, and Stella Ursua of Green Education, Inc. The make-up of the quartet gives a sense of how business and social consciousness is beginning to come together here in town.
Ursua, who is also a chair for the United States Green Building Council, recalls that the Green Prix originated in a desire to highlight “green” artists for Earth Day, which was this year happened to fall on the Monday after Grand Prix weekend.
“Then we’re like, ‘You know what? While we’re doing that, why don’t we bring in the urban farmers,'” she says. “Then Chef Paul and Dana Buchanan [of Primal Alchemy] heard about it, and they said, ‘We’ll do a farm-to-table dinner!’ It was one thing on top of [another]. And because the Grand Prix was going on [contemporaneously], we wanted a clean, sustainable type of alternative up here.”
While Wylie’s background is in finance and investment banking (including doing economic analysis for Aquarium in early 1990s), a portion of that was entertainment financing, wherein he first glimpsed the niche he would eventually start to help fill locally.
“While I’m not necessarily an artist, I have a great appreciation for it,” he says. “[…] You’ve got the people who are extremely creative, yet half the time they don’t know what they’re talking about. But they’re able to produce these things that have great value. […] You always hear the creative movie producer complaining about the suits at the studio. There’s a tension there, but—right or wrong—that tension seems to perpetuate those industries and make them viable. It’s fun to do art for art’s sake, and in a perfect world I guess it should be that way. But it’s just not a perfect world.”
He founded the Cultural Alliance of Long Beach (CALB) to help artists and arts organizations “develop a business side to them so they can professionalize themselves. […] I’m trying to help unlock the [monetary] value of the arts here. This is new territory for me.”
One of CALB’s arts-promoting projects has been the development of the MADhaus, which has become a welcome addition not only to the North Pine area, but for the Long Beach as a whole, considering what a paucity of viable event venues there are in the 38th-most populous city in the United States.
“Once I got the [former] tenant out of the space [that is now the MADhaus], I was going to turn it into a music rehearsal space,” Wylie relates. “But it had this metal trellis that I had redone. And I said, ‘I can’t close this room up. It’s too amazing.’ So I just started doing little events over there, and from that I started meeting all these [arts] people in town. And it’s just grown.”
Wylie says after Ursua approached him about activating the MADhaus and other CALB spaces around North Pine—such as the Bungalow Building—for an environment-focused event, a brainstorming session led to a consideration of the car in relation to society.
“At the turn of the [20th] century, in New York people were getting dysentery from the runoff of horse manure, because they had huge piles of horse shit every where and methane gas,” Wylie says. “It was killing people left and right. And then the car came out, and it eliminated all that pollution. It was a savior at the time—but now it’s part of the problem. […] Hopefully in the future it’s going to be something that doesn’t have the [negative] impact on the environment it currently does.”
Because of how tied up the City was with the Grand Prix, a street closure for the proposed event was not possible, and so the car-focused angle had to be shelved. “But for having six or eight weeks of planning and marketing, I think [the Green Prix] was a great event, you know?”
Wylie notes that, though the City has improved in terms of facilitating ease of event planning—especially for arts/green organizations that often don’t have a plethora of economic resources at their disposal—there remains room for improvement. As an example, he points to an unnecessary limitation that cut into the potential size of the Green Prix.
“We wanted to rent parking lot on corner of 7th and Pacific, but City insisted on two full-time police officers, plus six security guards,” he says. “[…] There’s a million things you have to do to put one of these events on. And the City’s first thing is always: ‘They’re going to sue me.’ It’s run by the attorneys, as opposed to business-people. ‘Cause it’s kind of a little shortsighted not to have more events in areas, like [North Pine], that need some support. I think in the long term…Just look at Blair Cohn; look what those events have done for Bixby Knolls. Downtown the problem we run into is it gets hyper expensive to close the street—the police expense, all of it adds up, and we’re trying just to get people out on the street. Part of the problem with Pine is we don’t necessarily have even enough businesses at this point to do something like Blair does, which means we have to bring in stuff—which means we have to close the street, you know? It’s a challenge. […] You’ve got the City, but you’ve got 20 different departments; you’ve got the DLBA, the Visitors & Convention Bureau, neighborhood associations, politicians…Everybody has a thing. You’ve got to do some tight maneuvering.”
But Wylie, along with Molina and company, are determined to make the moves necessary to activate North Pine.
“Up here on North Pine we haven’t exactly gotten DLBA or RDA love historically,” Wylie says, “and I want to put North Pine on the map, for people to come up here and see what the potential is. […] There’s a lot of neat spaces up here, and with the Millworks project there’s going to be a resurgence.”
On April 20, Molina and Ursua talked a bit about what is likely to be a cornerstone of that resurgence: the Millworks project. But it’s important to them that the resurgence not happen at all costs—that is to say, not at the expense of “green” practices. Call it a meeting of the two greens: money and environmentalism.
“It’s starting to happen, more and more,” said Ursua. “So, like, Michelle’s interested in making sure that building [i.e., the Millworks project] is sustainable, you know? For example, that all the materials that were deconstructed be re-used.”
“Grounded up and filled it back in,” Molina said. “Ninety-three percent re-used and recycled on that project.”
“That’s a great example of how the two worlds come together,” said Ursua.
Wylie echoes the importance of merging the profitable with the sustainable.
“We’ve been going through systematically and fixing many of them up and leasing them out,” Wylie says, them referring to space like the MADhaus and the Bungalow Building (the latter of which he says he’d like to see become “the EXPO of Downtown”). “We basically own them now, [and] we can’t do any future development, other than maybe rehabbing them and giving them a new purpose in life. […] What I’m trying to do is take some of these spaces and come up with sustainable models that will be able to operate whether [utilized by] a for-profit entity or as a quasi-private, nonprofit mixture. Do I have all the answers? No. But I know where we need to be. It may take some time, but I think we’ll get there eventually.”
Wylie says recently the DLBA has been somewhat more supportive of the clique’s efforts, helping smooth the way for realizing North Pine’s potential.
“It’s these urban amenities—the restaurants, the bars, the theaters, the concert venues—that attracted me [to Downtown],” he says. “And I know there are a lot of people who are like me and don’t like to drive, they like to work in their neighborhood and walk. A couple of months ago I had to call AAA out to jumpstart my car. I hadn’t driven anywhere! I think Long Beach is really on a great path. It’s awesome as it is, but I think that, as time goes by, it’s just going to get better.”
Javier Ortiz, co-owner of Kress Market, a store/eatery offering organic products, finds in the efforts of Wylie and Molina cause for hopefulness about the future.
“Last year during Grand Prix it was dead up here,” Ortiz said from outside his Pine/5th Street market as the Green Prix—a bandwagon on which he gladly jumped, offering a “green” beer tasting and live music—wound to a close. “This year was awesome. I think this was a great idea. […] There’s a lot more energy on the street [than last year], a lot more people. It might be our best day in a long time, if not the best, [period]. And this was the first year! […] Mike Wylie and Michelle Molina are making a big difference up here.”
See the difference in progress at Pine Ave. Pour—a free, all-ages happening at 7th & Pine (Long Beach 90802)—this Saturday, June 22. For more information, go to the Pine Ave. Pour Facebook event page. And keep up with the Party on Pine series—which Molina describes as “all having a similar vibe, free, some beer element, and local local local!”—at its Facebook page (because everyone and everything has a Facebook page, don’t we?).