Officials Seek a Regional Selling Point

Times Staff Writer

Concerned that the San Gabriel Valley draws only blanks in the minds of large-scale developers, a group of city managers will ask their respective councils this month to fund a marketing study aimed at developing an image for the area.

After a year of studying the issue and talking to major developers, the city managers are convinced that the San Gabriel Valley's lack of image has caused developers to ignore or outright reject the area in favor of more easily identifiable Southern California areas.

"It isn't that there is a bad image; it is that there is no image. (The region) is faceless. It has no personality," said Ellen Volmert, assistant to the Baldwin Park city manager.

"The issue is lack of visibility," said West Covina City Manager Herman R. Fast, who began the campaign.

"They don't know the San Gabriel Valley. It is an unknown marketplace. . . . It is invisible, and as a result we can't even get someone to slow down and listen."

Fast used as an example the Atrium, a hotel-office complex proposed for West Covina's central business district, which never materialized because of financiers' reluctance to invest in an unknown market.

"Those financial institutions were interested in going to places they knew," Fast said, "and they did not know the San Gabriel Valley."

An informal 1982-83 study by the West Covina Chamber of Commerce seemed to confirm the existence of an image problem.

"The result was that we didn't have a bad image. It was essentially that we didn't have any image at all," said Fred Burkhardt, the chamber's executive vice president. The West Covina chamber is the only one that has offered to help fund a new study.

To cultivate a recognizable image, the informal group of city managers hopes to apply business marketing concepts to local government, developing a strategy to identify and promote a saleable image of the San Gabriel Valley.

"It is a relatively new concept to the region, but they recognize that (marketing) works in the private sector as well as the public," said Bill Mascenik, West Coast manager of Public Technology Inc., the firm that will conduct the study if interested cities can raise $40,000.

Public Technology is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National League of Cities. It has worked with several cities, including West Hollywood, Anaheim and Inglewood, to develop marketing strategies, Mascenik said.

Steve Wilie, an assistant to Fast, said he and Fast informally canvassed city managers from the 28 cities in the San Gabriel Valley to find out if they were interested in the image program.

The two largest cities, Pasadena and Pomona, declined to participate. But West Covina, Monrovia, Alhambra, Monterey Park, Baldwin Park, Duarte, El Monte, Irwindale and Glendora were all tentatively interested, and each will be asked to contribute $5,000.

San Dimas and Covina have been asked to help fund the study, but neither city council voted on the matter.

Officials in most of the cities said they would recommend the project.

"I think it is a very positive and forward-thinking idea," said Leslie Andersen Little, administrator of development services for Monterey Park. That city recently completed a two-year program to redefine its long-term economic objectives, one of which was to attract large-scale developers.

Competitive Factor

"It just naturally fits in with our own goals," she said.

Several city officials said a distinct image would allow the San Gabriel Valley to compete with areas such as the Inland Empire, the San Fernando Valley and Orange County for major tax revenue-producing businesses and industries.

"The feeling is the San Gabriel Valley can be a strong competitor," said Monrovia City Manager Jim Starbird.

Easier Time

"We think we would have an easier time if the overall image of the San Gabriel Valley was higher," he added.

Fast said the study should include the entire San Gabriel Valley, because larger developers look for regional, not community, markets.

The study would identify any existing marketable images and provide suggestions and training seminars on how to effectively market the area.

"The end product would be developing a marketing strategy for the San Gabriel Valley to follow," Mascenik said.

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