Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Benicia's Future Closely Linked To Capitol's Past

Benicia's Future Closely Linked To Capitol's Past
By SARA STROUD/Times-Herald staff writer

BENICIA - From the city Web site to the city seal, the old State Capitol building is highly visible as a symbol of Benicia.

But with the historic building facing possible shuttering as part of wide-ranging state budget cuts, Benicians are talking about what impact the building's closure might have on downtown's vitality.

At a meeting of the Economic Development Board on Wednesday, a marketing firm that has been working to brand Benicia as a tourist destination will unveil its preliminary plan - which features the capitol as one of the city's biggest assets.

"We've woven it as an icon into the city," Economic Development Director Amalia Lorentz said of the building, which served as the state capitol from 1853 to 1854. "California history is one of our biggest strengths for marketing."

In a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, City Manager Jim Erickson expressed appreciation that the state is not borrowing from local government to close a $14.5 billion budget gap, but he wrote that closing the capitol would have a "very deleterious effect" on Benicia's downtown.

The proposed branding and tourism campaign, which was created by Oakland-based marketing firm, the Placemaking Group, identified the capitol as one of the city's greatest strengths, but said it is underutilized and should be upgraded.

One thing that the capitol does have going for it is one of the highest revenues per visitor of any state park, which speaks to its strength as an attraction, Lorentz said.

Benicia Historical Society member Jerry Hayes said the situation presents a opportunity for Benicia, and that the city should consider operating both the capitol and the State Recreation Area through the city parks department.

"It's an anchor of Main Street," Hayes said. "We need creative solutions to keep doors open."

Both Lorentz and Placemaking Group senior vice president Irv Hamilton said, while the capitol is important, the city has a diversity of historical resources from which to draw.

"Tourism is a dynamic activity. A change can stir up the pot but you can end up with an improved stew at the end," Hamilton said.

• E-mail Sara Stroud at sstroud@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6833.

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