A New Image for Burbank? : Officials Skeptical of Chamber's Plan for City

Times Staff Writer

For most people, the name of Burbank does not inspire images of bright lights, movie stars, limousines, sprawling industries and luxurious apartments.

But that could change if the Burbank Chamber of Commerce succeeds in a plan to sell the city as more than a dull bedroom community that is the butt of many jokes.

The chamber and executives of eight Burbank companies want to create a Burbank Economic Council to promote the city as the movie studio capital of the world and the home of such major industries as Lockheed and Sunbank Electronics, a major shipping company, said Michael Caggiano, chamber president.

The purpose is to attract business and to encourage existing businesses to remain, Caggiano said. The council also could serve as a source of information about goods and services available in Burbank, he said.

Use of Public Funds

At this point, however, city officials are reluctant to contribute $75,000 in public funds that the chamber wants to use to run the council for a year. Another $75,000 would be raised from area businesses, Caggiano said.

Burbank Mayor Michael R. Hastings and Vice Mayor Al F. Dossin said they have doubts about the council's purpose, goals and operation and are concerned that the city will have little voice in the organization.

If successful, the council would help deflect the regular digs at Burbank by comedian Johnny Carson, as well as bad press that some officials said the city received in several local controversies.

"It's an idea whose time has come," Caggiano said in an interview last week. "We want to create a total environment so that growth can be encouraged and managed. Burbank gets exposed all the time by Carson, and by shows such as 'Laugh-In,' but the rest of the country is not aware of all the pluses here."

Several motion picture and television studios, including Walt Disney, Columbia, Warner Brothers and NBC, are headquartered in Burbank.

Caggiano said he wanted to focus primarily on promoting Burbank through the business community. Among other things, he said, the council would produce a video that would be used "in an aggressive outreach campaign to maintain a quality image of Burbank."

The council would work closely with the Burbank Community Development Department and other city agencies involved in recruiting businesses, Caggiano said. Other activities would be determined by the council's board of directors, he said.

Nonprofit Group

The council would be established as a separate nonprofit organization with its own offices. Caggiano said its effectiveness would be evaluated at the end of its first year, to decide if it should be continued.

The chamber began working two years ago to improve Burbank's image. Among other things, it has distributed 10,000 marketing brochures to leading companies and local businesses touting the benefits of doing business in Burbank.

The city was also promoted as a pleasant and growing residential community with superior schools and less congestion than other cities in the Los Angeles area.

Although most of the organization's agenda is still being formulated, Caggiano's proposal itself appears to be in need of some good public relations. When the funding proposal goes before the City Council later this month, it will face several obstacles.

Hastings complained last week that the city is being asked to contribute money without having a significant voice in the council's operation. The city would have only one vote on the 10-member board of directors, which is composed mostly of business executives.

"I'm uncomfortable with any situation where we're putting up one-half of the money, but only have one-tenth of the vote," Hastings said. "I also don't see any real plan of action. I want to see some color proofs of what they plan to do, some treatments. Lip service doesn't get very far with me."

Caggiano said he understood Hastings' concern, but that everyone on the board would have Burbank's interest at heart. He said there would not be competing interests.

Dossin said he thinks the council should demonstrate its support by raising money from the business sector before asking the city for money.

He also said the group's goals were inconsistent. "They should decide what direction they want to take before they come to us," he said. "They should not only concentrate on improving business. They should try to improve the overall image of the city."

Bad Publicity

Dossin said Burbank's image does need improvement because of bad publicity. He said accusations and lawsuits stemming from the fight between entertainment rivals MCA and Disney over the development of a 40-acre downtown parcel brought bad press this year. MCA is contesting the city's tentative agreement giving Disney exclusive rights to develop the property.

The city also was embroiled in other controversies last year. A council member called entertainer Bob Hope a has-been after a poorly attended fund-raising event featuring Hope and other entertainers. City leaders openly bickered over the shape of a war memorial.

The city earned favorable national publicity when it became the first in the nation to ban toy guns, but "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel questioned Hastings' judgment in failing to take a stand on the banning of real weapons.

The idea of creating a separate economic council is not unusual. The City of Glendale formed a partnership with private business three years ago to market that city as a place for business. Officials said Glendale provides staff support and financing to the partnership amounting to $417,000.

Glendale recently attracted the national headquarters of Carnation Co. to move from Los Angeles. The city has also hired an outside public relations firm.

"We want to lay the groundwork for promoting our good environment, and then everything else will follow," said Carl Raggio, head of Glendale's redevelopment agency.

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