New Delay for Burbank Mall Likely to Get Council’s OK
The Burbank City Council on Tuesday is expected to give formal approval to yet another in a long series of delays in construction of the Towncenter shopping mall, a project that has caused city officials frustration for more than a decade.
Some council members have expressed uneasiness in approving the developer’s request for a six-month extension to complete the mall, which was supposed to have been finished by August, 1987. But other Burbank officials say the city has almost no choice but to approve the extension. They point out that the city already has poured too much money into demolition and relocation to back out. Burbank has spent $75 million to acquire land for the mall, relocate tenants and finance bonds, while the developer has invested $4 million. The mall is still in the design phase.
Officials for Ernest Hahn Inc. of San Diego, developers of the $158-million shopping center, told the council in July that they would need an extension for the project because one of the department stores that would anchor the mall could not be ready by the planned opening in 1987.
In asking for the extension, the developer agreed to come up with $45 million for construction of the enclosed mall and a J. C. Penney store, and also agreed to forfeit $1 million should it fail to complete the project.
Informal July Approval
Some council members, angered by the latest delay, voiced opposition to that plan in July, but the council still gave informal approval to Hahn.
“I don’t like this extension, and I would rather not have it,” Burbank Mayor Mary Lou Howard has said. “But what else can we do?”
The council could conceivably vote against the extension, City Manager Robert (Bud) Ovrom said. “That would throw the Hahn company into technical default,” Ovrom said. “Whenever their next deadline in the process was, they would be in default for missing it. Then they would have so many days to repair that default.”
But for the council to turn down the request would be “counterproductive,” Ovrom said. “I know everyone is angry and frustrated, but we can really see the light now. We have the commitment from the stores and from Hahn. To throw it away now would not be prudent.”
1988 Opening Planned
If the council approves the extension, the Towncenter will open its doors in February, 1988, city officials said.
Tuesday’s scheduled vote will be the first time that the newly constituted City Council led by Howard formally acts on the future of the Towncenter. Even though the council will most likely approve the extension, Councilman Al Dossin said he will not vote for approval.
“I am for the shopping center, and I feel an extension is necessary, but I think Hahn will always want an extension as long as he feels he can get one,” Dossin said. “Acting on this now anyway is academic.”
The delay would apply from the time that Hahn first asked for the extension, Ovrom said. He said he was not sure why redevelopment officials had taken four months to draw up the amendment to the original agreement authorizing the extension.
Dossin said that voting on the extension now, almost four months after it was requested by the developer, is “an embarrassment” for city administrators.
In delaying formal action, Dossin said, city officials and staff working on the mall adopted the “bad habits” of previous administrations which he said frequently delayed timely decisions.
“We should have immediately voted on this when it was first brought up,” Dossin said.
Although he also is not pleased with the extension, Councilman Michael Hastings said he thinks this delay will be the last.
“This is Mr. Hahn’s last hurrah,” Hastings said. “I’m willing to give him this one more shot. If it doesn’t work, then he’s out of the game.”
Plagued by Problems
The mall has been plagued by missed deadlines, delays and financial difficulties ever since 1975, when Hahn and city officials first started to plot out their plans for an elaborate shopping center with five major department stores and a hotel on a 40-acre site.
Although Hahn and the city agreed to a plan in 1979, it collapsed in 1982, just before the Burbank was preparing to approve certificates of participation for a parking structure. Hahn, blaming economic woes brought on by high interest rates and the recession, pulled out of the project.
A new agreement between Hahn and the city was struck in late 1983 for a scaled-down version of the shopping center. But although Hahn renewed the commitment, Howard and other city officials are still bitter about his pullout.
Among the most recent setbacks was a rejection by Burbank officials of the developer’s design plans. Community Development Director Larry Kosmont said the design was too “fortress-like” and had no relation to the surrounding downtown area. Modified plans are expected by January.
The current, scaled down plan contains four department stores on a 29-acre site. More than 150 shops and a publicly financed parking structure also will occupy the center, which is being designed to revitalize the deteriorating downtown Burbank retail area.