A Downtown of a 'Certain Maturity' : Beverly Hills Considers Face Lift for Central Business District

Community Correspondent

In some quarters, the image of Beverly Hills is one of preoccupation with good looks and money. City Council members focused on both those issues at their study session Tuesday.

Like an aging actor whose chin is sagging, the city is considering a face lift for its central business district, which, as Deputy City Manager Robert C. Walsh delicately put it, "is of a certain maturity."

A proposed urban design project, originally conceived by landowners and businesses, would dress up the triangle bounded by Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards and Crescent Drive, and would also take in a strip of Beverly Drive south to Olympic. Landscaping, new granite sidewalks, colorful crosswalks and plaza-like areas with outdoor cafes and hanging planter boxes--all features of the proposal--were illustrated on large easel boards in the council chambers.

$5.5 Million a Year

The improvements would cost up to $5.5 million annually in capital expenditures and maintenance for 25 years, Walsh said, and would be financed jointly by the city, property owners and merchant tenants.

Rodeo Drive retailer Jerry Magnin, a member of the Urban Design Committee, made an impassioned pitch for "the full-blown program." Magnin called Beverly Hills "the best shopping area in the whole world" and likened Rodeo Drive to fashionable boulevards in Paris, Rome and London.

But those boulevards, unlike Rodeo Drive, he said, had spawned nearby streets that were of similar interest to well-heeled shoppers, enhancing the attractiveness of the entire area.

"There are fabulous stores in Century City and the Beverly Center that should be in Beverly Hills," Magnin said, "but they can't afford Rodeo Drive (rents), and there is no secondary street that's nice enough."

Warning Issued

Citing the decline of the once-fashionable Miracle Mile and Hollywood Boulevard, Magnin said Beverly Hills must look to the future to avoid a similar fate.

Anticipating that some property owners and tenants would balk at the high cost of the proposed improvements, he said San Jose recently spent $95 per square foot of commercial development, and Denver and Portland similar amounts, for urban design.

Magnin estimated building costs for the Beverly Hills project at $100 per square foot, though each landowner would be assessed according to a complicated formula. Some of that cost would be passed along to tenants in the form of rent raises.

"Higher rent is the price you pay for success," Magnin said.

The council directed the city staff to notify and meet with landowners and merchants by Oct. 27. A public protest hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Looking good isn't the only thing that carries a hefty price tag. Having it all costs, too. Turning its attention to cash flow, the council heard City Manager Ed Kreins say the general fund would suffer a shortfall unless the city restructures $72 million of its current debt, increases revenues or cuts back expenditures.

Upgraded Facilities

Finance Administrator Donald Oblander reminded the council that, in addition to a new Civic Center, Beverly Hills is about to enjoy upgraded library facilities and has ordered a new emergency dispatch system. In addition, the city is building a larger jail.

Some council members expressed reservations about refinancing the debt but instructed the city staff to meet with financial and legal consultants to prepare documents for a 30-year refinancing, to be reviewed by the council in four to six weeks.

Deputy Mayor Allan Alexander said refinancing, which must be voted on, will be "a major decision." Councilwoman Vicki Reynolds said: "If we go into hock, we may have to consider (approving profitable developments such as) hotels and large landholdings, which are anathema to some residents."

Mayor Max Salter was the only council member who said he definitely will not vote for refinancing. "I cannot in conscience pass this debt on to future generations," he said.

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