Changes Would Invigorate Area, Report Says : Downey Advised to Change Looks of Firestone Blvd.

Times Staff Writer

The Stonewood Shopping Center should be enclosed and expanded, and auto dealerships should be relocated to the western and eastern ends of Firestone Boulevard to help invigorate Downey's main commercial corridor, a consultant says.

The City Council on Tuesday considered those and other recommendations that are contained in a report by planning and development consultants Stanley R. Hoffman Associates of Los Angeles.

The city hired the firm last year to devise a strategy to develop the market potential of Firestone Boulevard--Downey's commercial hub. The city's redevelopment effort is concentrated along the boulevard.

The council took no action pending further review of the report. The city's planning staff intends to use the report in its continuing effort to revise Downey's zoning, according to Jim Cutts, Community Development Director. Recommendations on zoning changes, which will shape the future development of Downey, should be considered by the council this summer, Cutts said.

The study identifies the Firestone corridor as a steady commercial zone, but one that could be more attractive with reorganization. Firestone Boulevard runs 3.2 miles through Downey. Hoffman Associates began the $27,000 study last June, officials said.

"Downey residents display a relative lack of interest in the Firestone Corridor in general, and in Firestone Boulevard retailers in particular," the report said.

The problem, according to the report, is that Firestone Boulevard is a hodgepodge of large and small retail stores next to motels, offices, auto dealerships and even a school--Downey High. The boulevard has land that is not fully used, including about 10 vacant parcels, the report said.

"It's got manufacturing, residential and commercial all in one street, which is unfortunate," Cutts said.

Cutts said he generally agreed with the findings and proposals of the report. During the meeting, Mayor Diane P. Boggs questioned the thoroughness of the demographic study included in the report. But she withheld judgment on its proposals pending further review.

The report proposes a more homogeneous commercial zone surrounding Stonewood center, and a well-developed downtown/civic center to the east. It envisions mixed commercial and industrial development on the east and west.

The study says Downey merchants capture a good share of the general merchandise, auto and clothing purchases by local residents. But it says the city lacks specialty retail stores, and as a result, loses business to regional malls in neighboring cities. And there is a cumulative effect, the report said, in that those who leave town for specialty store purchases end up buying general goods in other cities as well. Specialty stores include those that sell jewelry, gifts, books and camera equipment.

To be more successful, Firestone Boulevard needs better quality stores, more attractive buildings, more parking and less traffic congestion, the report said.

The report recommends the city first concentrate on improving the area between Woodruff Avenue and Patton Road, which includes the Stonewood center.

A study survey indicated Stonewood, an open-air mall, draws customers from only a 15-minute driving radius, while the typical regional center draws from a 25- to 30-minute radius.

The Stonewood center should be enclosed and enlarged to provide a more attractive shopping area that would draw customers from throughout the region, the study said.

A spokesman for Newport Beach-based Hughes Investments, which owns the shopping center, said the firm is considering enclosing and enlarging the mall to stay competitive with newer malls in the area, such as Cerritos Mall. Spokesman John Pentz said the firm would like assistance from Downey for improvement, including improving the parking lot.

"If we can bring it up to date and expand and enclose it, it will enhance its postion in the marketplace," Pentz said.

Revenue Increase Seen

The city also should encourage restaurants and commercial recreational businesses, such as a multiscreen cinema, to complement the mall, the study said. Upgrading the Stonewood area would increase revenues from sales taxes and property taxes.

The study recommends that the city then concentrate on the downtown area to the west, an area that should be transformed into a classic civic center. The downtown area, between Patton Road and Myrtle Street, should be used for commercial office space and related uses, such as hotels, restaurants and specialty retail stores, the study said.

Two auto dealerships, auto service centers and home improvement stores would be relocated and specialty retail stores and new parking lots would take their place.

Ideally, the east and west ends of Firestone Boulevard should be used for all the corridor's auto dealerships, home improvement stores and building material stores, the study said. The outer areas also were called ideal for a business park, auto service centers and restaurants.

Such businesses would draw customers entering the city from South Gate on the west and Norwalk on the east, boosting Downey's sales tax revenue, the study said.

"It does get (auto dealers) closer to the freeways, and opens up the downtown for revitalization," Cutts said.

In all, the report suggests moving four auto dealerships in the downtown and Stonewood areas. Included in the four is Downey Toyota, which is undergoing major renovation and would not be pushed by the city to move, Cutts said.

"These are recommendations," Cutts said. "There are some that are economically unfeasible."

Move Buildings

Industrial and manufacturing buildings, especially those that front Firestone Boulevard, also would move to make way for commercial development.

The study recommends that the city replace existing single-family houses in the Firestone Corridor with commercial development. Development of condominiums, townhouses and senior-citizen housing should be limited to a small section on Firestone Boulevard's eastern edge.

The study notes that Downey has an aging, static population of about 83,000, a characteristic that could hamper future economic development. The city's population is projected to remain about the same through the year 2000.

But Downey has other characteristics that could attract new business. The city has a relatively high median household income--$29,022 in 1985--compared to the Los Angeles County median income of $25,229. And employment growth has been relatively strong in Downey, and it is projected to grow through the turn of the century, the report said.

The report said the city must work to encourage population growth--and the buying power that comes with it--by encouraging new residential development outside the Firestone Corridor. It also should rehabilitate older residential neighborhoods, the study said. That would include replacing some older single-family homes with higher-density townhouses or condominiums.

A good portion of the Firestone Corridor is within Downey's redevelopment district. The study says the city's redevelopment agency could use financial incentives, such as loan and subsidy programs, to finance building construction and improvements. The redevelopment agency also could provide incentives to relocate for auto dealers, other businesses, industry and residential property owners.

For property owners outside redevelopment areas, a category that includes the Stonewood Plaza, Cutts said the city could fund public improvements, such as parking lots, to encourage growth.

The report also recommends strictly enforcing some zoning laws and changing others to accomplish the strategic goals.

There was no community opposition or support of the plan at Tuesday's meeting. Downey Chamber of Commerce President Patricia Gomez said she had not read the report and declined comment.

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