Laguna Beach opens Promenade on Forest to draw downtown customers

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Moulin owner Laurent Vrignaud shares free croissants from the dining deck in front of his cafe on Forest Avenue on June 15. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach opened the Promenade on Forest to the public on Monday, offering a much-needed lifeline to downtown businesses during the public health and economic crises.

About 100 people turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony led by members of the Laguna Beach City Council at Coast Highway and Forest Avenue.

Council members, city employees, and residents meandered down the Promenade. Moulin owner Laurent Vrignaud laid out trays of free croissants on the dining deck installed in front of his cafe.

“This thing is a long time coming,” Vrignaud said. “There’s a lot of for-lease signs downtown. You can’t have a downtown without little cafes, restaurants, and shops.”

He likened the Promenade to popular pedestrian malls in Paris, Rome, and Moscow. He expects that part of the Promenade’s draw will be as a space for visitors to people watch.

“This weekend there was no promenade and the place was packed,” Vrignaud said. “Next weekend, this place will be rocking and rolling no doubt.”

(Left) City manager John Pietig, Councilmember Peter Blake, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, Councilmember Sue Kempf, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, Mayor Bob Whalen, Councilmember Toni Iseman, and Senior Administrative Analyst Jeremy Frimond pose for a photo at the Promenade on Forest on June 15. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

After Monday’s ribbon-cutting, several groups of people sipped coffee at city-owned tables placed on the dining deck in front of Moulin. A hand sanitizing station emblazoned with the city seal was also installed several steps away.

Among the centerpieces of the Promenade were four cube-shaped bollards encased in colorful tile mosaics. These artistic traffic devices were designed and fabricated in just eight days to block vehicles from turning onto Forest Avenue.

“People are saying, ‘it’s very Laguna’ and I agree,” bollard co-creator Marlo Bartels said in a phone interview.

The bollards were created by Bartels, Jesse Bartels, Steve Gaskey, and Joey Sammut. Marlo Bartels’ previous contributions to Laguna Beach public art include the Canyon Chess and Checkers table and benches installed in 1981 at Main Beach Park.

Laguna Niguel resident Joey Sammut said the team put in 12-hour workdays on the bollards to complete them by the deadline. He was pleased to see the city trying something to create a place where people can meet downtown.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Sammut said. “I lived in Laguna Beach for five years. The way it was designed before, it wasn’t as efficient as it could have been. I think it will allow people who are out and about a place to chill out.”

Laguna Beach resident Gunilla Beckrot stopped on her morning walk to snap a photo of the antique lifeguard jeep parked at Forest Avenue and Glenneyre Street to stop traffic. She agreed that opening lower Forest Avenue was the right step to attract more customers.

Beckrot said she and her husband have been eating at home because they’re at high-risk for a severe reaction to the coronavirus because of their age. She still sees the outdoor dining decks as a great opportunity for otherwise wary customers.

“I think this must be safer than eating inside,” Beckrot said. “If we were to go [out to] eat we would certainly eat outside.”

The City Council awarded a $145,000 contract to Choura Events on May 26 for materials, labor, furniture rental, and installation of the Promenade’s elements. Landscape design firm SWA  Group received a contract for up to $25,000 for the concept’s development and design.

The Promenade on Forest is scheduled to be in place until at least Sept. 7.

A tile encrusted bollard depicts a garibaldi at the Promenade on Forest. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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