Spacey Ideas: : 40 Acres of Burbank Become Landing Zone for Flights of Fancy

Times Staff Writer

Someone wants to build a 40-acre spaceship in Burbank.

The spaceship wouldn't fly, but just sit in the middle of downtown Burbank. It would contain department stores for earthbound consumers.

Other builders would like to put a giant commercial farm downtown, or turn the property into a huge automobile center.

Those are among the more unusual suggestions that have come to Burbank City Hall from developers around the state in the past few weeks as city officials prepare to solicit formal proposals for a downtown redevelopment site that has been plagued by failed promises and misfires during the past 15 years.

Although more conventional informal ideas have already been put forth by developers--including shopping centers and office complexes--none has come close to the scale of the Walt Disney Co., which proposed a $611-million retail-entertainment center. Disney withdrew its plans almost three weeks ago, when the project became too expensive.

Unlikely Proposals

City Manager Bud Ovrom said the proposals for the farm and spaceship were "spacey ideas" the city is unlikely to accept. "You always get stuff like that," he said. "But we would never consider them seriously."

Ovrom declined to name the authors of those ideas or to provide details. He did say the farm proposal would involve turning the 40 acres into a vegetable and produce farm.

Other informal proposals, Ovrom said, have been closer to developer Ernest Hahn's 12-year plan to build a regional shopping center similar to the nearby Glendale Galleria. That plan fell through last year when Hahn was unable to attract the necessary number of department stores to anchor the mall.

A majority of the ideas, Ovrom said, are for building retail malls with large discount stores and middle-scale department stores. He said 10 to 15 developers have proposed that kind of center.

"We have consciously not engaged in any serious discussion with anyone," Ovrom said. "What we're looking for is retail-commercial development, a regional shopping center. We are not interested in residential development."

The site is generally bordered by Burbank Boulevard on the north, Third Street on the east, Magnolia Boulevard to the south and the Golden State Freeway to the west.

A formal solicitation describing the 40-acre site and its surroundings will be sent to numerous developers nationwide on May 9. The selection will be handled in two phases, or rounds, Ovrom said.

The first round, which will last 10 weeks, will ask developers to submit their qualifications, including financial capabilities, past projects and a conceptual plan detailing their proposal for Burbank. Offers for purchase or leasing of the property also will be considered.

Culling of Proposals

Community development officials and the Burbank City Council will judge the first-round proposals and narrow them down to the top five to seven, Ovrom said. Those finalists would move into the second round and would be required to submit a detailed proposal with layouts, traffic circulation plans and specific purchase plans.

Those proposals would be due by the end of November. The city would make a decision in January.

Ovrom said one developer wanted to divide the 40-acre parcel by streets and create an environment similar to Westwood Village. That approach could produce as much as 1 million square feet of developable land, which could fetch up to $50 million, he said.

Larry Kosmont, a former city community development director who runs his own development and consulting firm in Burbank, said he was thinking about making a proposal. "Some kind of a promotional retail and recreational center is what we will look at," he said.

David Case, of the Fullerton-based firm of Dicker-Warmington Properties, said his company was also considering some sort of retail center. "But we're really not prepared to come forward at this point and say what we're doing," he said.

Craig Stevens of the Sherman Oaks-based firm of Beitler & Associates said he would consider a pedestrian-focused development similar to Westwood or Beverly Hills. He said that kind of development would incorporate existing elements in the area such as the periodic farmers market.

"You've got to give people a reason to come to Burbank," Stevens said.

MCA Inc., a major competitor last year when Disney was selected to develop the site, said it is still evaluating the situation following Disney's withdrawal and has not indicated whether it will make a proposal. MCA filed two suits last year charging that it was shut out of bidding on the site.

Developer Stuart Chase said the site is doomed to be vacant for a long time.

"That area will never make it as a major retail center, and unless the city is prepared to deal with that, it will go under," he said.

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