Honors handed out at 50th Santa Barbara Downtown Organization Gala

Fess Parker ballroom packed for special night

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Santa Barbara Downtown Organization has celebrated 50 years with a special gala event attended by an array of business, political and community leaders.

The event Wednesday night was held at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort.

The evening had countless highlights including a video journey back in time, by Dana Morrow. It began in the early days of Santa Barbara and included pictures of the first businesses to open downtown.   

After the 1925 earthquake, the video showed the focus on Spanish style architecture.  It was a look that set Santa Barbara apart from other coastal towns and remains the image immediately noticed by visitors from around the world.  

Over the years, downtown has had several improvements to attract shoppers and business developers including decorative walkways, the Paseo Nuevo Mall, the State Street Flag program, festivals, decoration contests, and the annual Holiday parade.

Honors were handed out to this year's outstanding citizens as chosen by the Downtown Organization board.

They included:

Harriet Miller Youth Leadership Award - Sophia Qin,  Dos Pueblos High School.

Downtown Business Champion of the Year Award - Amy Cooper Plum Goods.

2016 George Gerth Volunteer of the Year Award - Tracy Pfautch, Pacific Western Bank.

2016 Citizen of the Year  -  Helene Schneider, Two-term Santa Barbara Mayor.

The evening also included a special moment for a heartfelt toast to 2003 Citizen of the Year, Michael Towbes from Santa Barbara International Film Festival Director Roger Durling. Those attending raised their glasses to Towbes who was not present. Early Thursday morning it was learned he had passed away.

The Downtown Organization has been challenged over the years by economic swings, and most recently, an increase in businesses closing.  Leaders are looking to the future with a new vision and fresh ideas to help strengthen the business district, along with its strong arts and culture image over a multiblock area.

There's also been an early discussion to possibly enlarge the footprint into the lower State Street or Funk Zone area in the months ahead.

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