Santa Ana Grapples With a Changing Downtown


By Nashe Harley

A few years ago, the historic shopping district known as the Fiesta Marketplace was rebranded and given a new name: the East End. Since then, rent prices have gone up, stores have closed down and newer, trendier businesses have taken over.

“The heartbeat of a city is measured by its downtown. And by downtown thriving and being successful it helps push that energy to other parts of the city as well,” Ryan Chase, Downtown Santa Ana developer, said.

Since the redevelopment began, jobs have been created, many different businesses have opened and the city has seen an increase in tax revenue, Chase said. The overall perception of Santa Ana has shifted as well, meaning more and more people from across the county are venturing in to work, invest and live here, Chase added.

“I think it is good for the city but a lot of people don’t like it,” Santa Ana resident Stephanie Diaz said. “We are very proud of the Latino culture here and I think they feel like it’s being taken away.”

New businesses are opening in Downtown Santa Ana. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

New businesses are opening in Downtown Santa Ana. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

Diaz, who has lived with her family in Santa Ana for more than 20 years, says she doesn’t mind the change as long as it doesn’t cover up the city’s unique history.

“It’s definitely more diverse than it was. There are a lot of people from different cultures visiting or moving in that probably wouldn’t have come here before. It’s good for everyone because you get to experience something different without having to go too far from home,” Diaz said.

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Peter Ji, owner of the ice cream shop Scoops that opened three months ago at 605 E. Santa Ana Blvd., has noticed the change in people’s perception of the city. Since his store opened, he has observed a more diverse group of people from all over Orange County coming to Santa Ana to experience its blend of old and new.

“You can definitely see that change in going towards a better way but at the same time preserving what was here. That’s the reason I chose this area, just because it’s so different,” Ji said.

Scoops opened in The Roost on Santa Ana Boulevard. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

Scoops opened in The Roost on Santa Ana Boulevard. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

The Latino influence isn’t likely to change anytime soon. About 78 percent of the city’s population is Latino and about 74 percent of those speak Spanish, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It’s important for us to be able to have some sort of community engagement process,” Alicia Rojas, artist and co-founder of Santa Ana Community Arts Coalition, said. “Our organization is focusing on public art because we feel that the community should have a collective say in what their city looks like.”

Activists and community leaders agree and have been campaigning for the creation of a wellness district that focuses on the needs of Santa Ana residents. Opponents of the decision are afraid that rebranding the area would alienate non-Latino residents and visitors.

“Anytime you can improve an area and make people healthier and more knowledgeable about their health, it’s a great thing,” Chase said. “You just have to balance that with what the impacts are, both positive and negative.”