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New Shop Aims to Market Laguna

A vacant Forest Avenue storefront will soon transform into a street-level gallery and an innovative bricks-and-mortar e-commerce marketplace for Laguna Beach merchants.

The city’s Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a temporary use permit for One Laguna, proposed for 225 Forest Ave. by property owner and local resident Allan Simon, chairman of Firebrand Media Inc. and owner of the Indy.

Simon envisions remaking the former surf shop as an “interactive media space that inspires, engages and connects visitors and locals to our beach community,” according to a staff report. While its downstairs will give the Laguna College of Art and Design a more prominent exhibition space in a high traffic area, upstairs is to provide multi-media displays of the town’s virtual inventory, ranging from unsold theater tickets to vacant hotel rooms or restaurant tables to the type of art in each gallery, Simon explained prior to the meeting.

In order to achieve his objective of winning approval on Wednesday, Simon told commissioners he would drop plans to host events at One Laguna to satisfy objections raised by staff as lack of off-site parking nearby violates city parking requirements. Questions also arose over secondary exits in the multi-purpose facility.

In addition, the city’s Visitor’s Bureau, which was to inhabit a planned kiosk for current and historical information on the ground floor, is no longer involved, Simon informed commissioners.

“We couldn’t agree to terms,” Simon said later in an email query over the change in plans. Peggy Trott, a bureau board member, said Simon pulled out of negotiations on July 31 and wanted to move forward without the bureau because the parties could not resolve negotiations.

Eight people spoke in support of the measure, which chairman Robert Zurschmiede likened to a “love fest.”

“This will reinforce downtown as the town’s artistic and cultural center and enhance the pedestrian experience,” said architect Horst Noppenberger, whose office is near the new business.

Commissioner Linda Dietrich praised the e-commerce component “to benefit business in the north and south end of town.”

Relocating the college’s gallery “in the heart of downtown,” added Jonathan Burke, president of the Laguna College of Art & Design, is an “extraordinary opportunity.”

Commissioner Anne Johnson questioned if Simon intends to eventually apply for a more permanent conditional use permit rather than the temporary one.

“Sometimes these things don’t come out as you’ld like,” Simon said. “If we have it nailed technologically, I’d be happy to come back,” he said.

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