Shopping Center Idea Dropped

Times Staff Writer

A long-debated plan to build a shopping center in the troubled northwest area was quietly dropped this week by the Board of City Directors.

Directors voted instead to develop an industrial park and commercial center at King's Plaza, an abandoned grocery store across the street from a low-income housing project.

Development of King's Plaza is seen by city officials as a crucial element in revitalizing northwest Pasadena, where crime and unemployment rates are the highest in the city. But what to do with the site at 1222 N. Fair Oaks Ave. has sparked battles between neighboring residents and city officials for several years.

More than a year ago, the city approved a $4-million redevelopment plan for King's Plaza that called for Boys Markets to reopen its abandoned grocery store. The city earmarked $1.8 million in federal grant money to be loaned to the project, but none of the funds have been spent. Small retail shops and fast-food restaurants were also planned for the 5.4-acre site.

At that time local residents assailed the plan, contending that a shopping center in the area was unneeded and would put neighboring merchants out of business.

City directors said this week that they and the principal developer of the project, Watt Commercial Properties Inc., now agree with the residents.

The area would be better served by some type of mixed use such as a combination of light industry and small service shops, Director Loretta Thompson-Glickman said.

Although a new development plan has yet to be completed, Glickman said she envisions a project with some type of light manufacturing next to a barber shop, beauty salon and a dry cleaner.

But the new plan still may not appease neighboring residents.

"I don't see the reality of that combination working," said Douglas Kosobayashi, part owner of Berry & Sweeney Pharmacy and one of the most outspoken opponents of the city's original redevelopment plan.

"I think they have to make a commitment one way or the other, either to make it light industry or not do it all. That location is not suitable for a shopping center."

Attempts to make King's Plaza into an economic booster for the neighborhood have historically failed and the abandoned market that sits alone in the large plaza is the most visible testament to that failure.

Boys Market opened in 1975 and closed five years later. The grocery store was plagued by theft, sniper fire, gang fights, and employees and customers were routinely harassed by neighborhood toughs. Boys management closed the store in 1980 after reporting operating losses of $300,000 that year.

Kosobayashi, whose store is about a block and a half north of Kings Plaza, has owned his shop since the late 1960s. "I've seen a lot happen in this area," he said this week. "We've wasted how many years on this thing? . . . a shopping center would not fly there no matter how they mix or match it.

"Light industry would be successful. There are several other light industries right in the area, so it would be congruous to the existing flow of development. And it would create a lot of jobs."

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