By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
New executive director commits to making Gaslamp a neighborhood again
Michael Trimble first kicked dirt on the streets of the historic Gaslamp Quarter back in 1985 while dragging cables and painting signs for Rob Hagey, his tennis coach and the producer of Street Scene.
Today Trimble is the new executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, and he will be the first to tell you he has tremendously large shoes to fill. He replaced his longtime friend and colleague Jimmy Parker — the association’s executive director for 11 years — last April.
Trimble has the Gaslamp Quarter in his blood; his father, Gerald Trimble, moved his family from Pasadena to San Diego in 1974 to take over as executive vice president of the Center City Development Corporation (CCDC). The elder Trimble’s job focused on the development of Horton Plaza, among dozens of other redevelopments in the district throughout the 1970s and early ’80s. Online searches will find him called “a key force” in the neighborhood’s eventual revival.
But Michael Trimble has his own roots in the neighborhood, as well. In 1989, after college, Trimble became head of community and city relations for Street Scene, forging a path that led him to where he is today.
Street Scene, the largest food and music festival of its time in all of California, brought people back to a rundown part of Downtown San Diego that time had almost forgotten, taking over empty parking lots and spilling into the streets throughout the Gaslamp Quarter.
Trimble’s job was to network with all of the merchants, ensuring everyone was on the same page and the event was a success. As a result of those tight connections, in 1994 he was elected to the Gaslamp Quarter Association’s board of directors, and a year later, he left Hagey and joined American Express in sales.
This new role, which included the Gaslamp Quarter in his territory, allowed him to strengthen his ties even more and keep his position on the board. He worked with the association and its members on joint marketing and advertising, which benefited AmEx through expanded charging volumes and boosting the local businesses.
“I really wanted to make sure I had the ability to help them grow, drive sponsorships and initiatives,” Trimble said.
For the next 18 years Trimble remained on the board, heading up volunteer committees and serving as volunteer director, while simultaneously climbing the corporate ladder.
But after a global reorganization and downsizing in 2013 left him unemployed, Trimble took some time off to recharge and reassess his options.
“No one likes to be uprooted like that, but it was a blessing in disguise,” Trimble said. “I think it was time that maybe I could try something else. So I did some bicycle riding and some bicycle touring, stuff like that. I took some time off to figure out what I wanted to do, and at that time I found out Jimmy was retiring.”
His sudden career change forced him to resign from his cherished board of directors. Having been an active participant in the Gaslamp Quarter Association for more than two decades, the thought of sitting in the executive director chair seemed like the perfect fit.
“I spent a lot of time knowing what the association was all about, knowing what they wanted to do, knowing the mission,” he said. “I watched it develop through many different executive directors.
He entered applied for the job — a selection process that took more than six months to complete. In the end, it was not only Trimble’s history with Gaslamp, but his close, long-term ties with all the merchants, and his acute knowledge of all the people, politics and players that eventually landed him the job.
He was pleased to honor Parker at the recent Lamplighter Awards with a special recognition.
“Jimmy loved the Gaslamp,” Trimble said. “He was very passionate and worked very hard. He served this community well for 11 years.”
Trimble’s first official event as executive director was a day of service — the Gaslamp neighborhood cleanup day.
A group including Trimble, Councilmember Todd Gloria, Downtown San Diego Partnership CEO Kris Michell, and over 250 volunteers, took to the 16 and a half square blocks that make up the historic district, to put a spit shine on the neighborhood.
“That was something that people and businesses were excited about,” he said. “They want a sense of neighborhood, a sense of community.”
His next event was called Night Plaza, a four hour, seven-day public event that was spread out across the summer. They blocked off Island Avenue between Fourth and Fifth avenues and created a pop-up music and arts festival on nights that were not impacted by Comic Con or the Padres being in town.
“We turned it into a park,” Trimble said. “We had Bryant Park style seating, benches, we brought in jazz bands, we had flamenco dancers, we even taught dance classes — and it was all free. Basically we just created this place for people to just come and be.”
His goals for the future are to do just that — give back to the community in such a way that it will bring people back to the Gaslamp from other ares around the county and keep the Gaslamp residents in the neighborhood, and get them involved, too.
“I want people to know that the Gaslamp Quarter door is always open,” he said. “If you have concerns or ideas and want to get involved, this is the place to start. We want this office to be a resource to the community. We are here with the knowledge and the ability to help all kinds of businesses and want to help our businsses and members to be successful. “Things like events that don’t compete with my members and offering additional services, so people know they have a resource here at the association.”
Concerns like permitting issues or trash problems, and just the overall issues that can arise in the day-to-day business of doing business in the Gaslamp Quarter are things Trimble wants he and his staff to tackle on a regular basis for their association members.
“Sure, we produce events, but we’re also marketing and business advocacy,” he said. That is our job as a business improvement district, to help improve business in the Gaslamp for all our merchants.”
In 2016, they have plans to make the Gaslamp Quarter more walkable, create a universal valet service, and to eliminate parking issues as much as possible.
“We never want people to say, ‘It’s too difficult to get to Gaslamp. You can’t park in Gaslamp.’ We’re trying to change that impression,” Trimble said.
One of their bigger initiatives is a year-long pilot program that will convert street parking along Fifth Avenue to a 3-minute active loading zone on the weekends from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Trimble said the initiative will increase the flow of traffic, improve mobility, and the plan has already received positive feedback from first responders.
“All these initiatives are also to encourage businesses to come down and ‘set up shop’ in the Gaslamp and help make the existing businesses more successful,” he said.
With a lifelong history in the neighborhood, Trimble wants to make the Gaslamp Quarter a place everyone wants to come to, for meals, shopping and as he said, “to just be.”
In his personal life, Trimble is an self-described “adrenalin junkie” and makes time every day to train for his latest obsession: an upcoming half ironman next June in Boulder, Colorado. He affectionately calls his time running, biking or at the gym “sweat therapy,” and his healthy living philosophy will definitely impact the many upcoming positive changes he plans for the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of competition out there; East Village, North Park, South Park, Little Italy, Bankers Hill … people have a lot of choices,” he said. “With a lot of choices you have to keep it fresh and remind people why they loved the Gaslamp at some time in their life and maybe they have forgotten.
“Now it’s time to think of the Gaslamp in a new way and come back and experience what we have to offer.
Want to get involved? Attend a board meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. and check out their new revamped website at gaslamp.org
—Reach Morgan M. Hurley at firstname.lastname@example.org.