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Retail Center Now a Symbol of Hope : Development: After six years of struggling, Hollywood Galaxy is scheduled to open soon.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like a stubborn sapling, the Hollywood Galaxy project has been trying to take root for six years in the hostile terrain of urban Hollywood.

Along the way, it has weathered relentless community concerns and survived opposition from city agencies that were often pushing it in different directions at the same time. It stood fast as countless government obstacles threatened to wash it away, and it outlived many threats to its financing and its ability to attract reluctant merchants to a tattered stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.

Now, as its developers get ready for the Hollywood Galaxy’s grand opening, the mixed-use retail center, which includes an outdoor food court and a six-screen movie theater, stands as a symbol of hope. It is proof that commercial growth can take root in what critics have long called the fallow soil of the once-glorious movie capital.

That, at least, is what some city officials and the Galaxy’s developers, Kornwasser & Friedman Shopping Center Properties, would like people to believe.

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The confidence that Kornwasser & Friedman executives exude seems to be working; the project is being hailed as yet another cornerstone that will jump-start the stalled $922-million Hollywood redevelopment effort and get Hollywood back on its feet again.

But unlike other proposed projects held up as potential saviors of Hollywood Boulevard, this one has become a reality. It is set to get under way as early as this weekend, when the first retail tenant, Space Age Gallery, opens.

An official kickoff for the General Cinema Galaxy 6 movie complex is scheduled for Thursday, and the ribbon cutting for the entire project will be in February, long after many of the retail shops are scheduled to open.

“The completion of this project is the turning-the-corner point for Hollywood,” said City Councilman Michael Woo, whose office has worked with Kornwasser & Friedman since 1985. Its success will be especially powerful when combined with Disney’s $6-million restoration of the El Capitan movie theater just down the street, and with the final defeat of a lawsuit aimed at thwarting the redevelopment effort, Woo said.

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Brooke Knapp, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the project is “a major accomplishment not only for Hollywood, but for Southern California and indeed around the state, which have become user-hostile as far as businesses are concerned.”

“Isn’t it exciting that they had the dedication and perseverance to see this project through to its fruition?” asked Knapp, whose chamber represents hundreds of businesses. “It’s thrilling. I think it is going to bring people back to Hollywood Boulevard.”

What makes the project even more of a spectacular success, its developers say, is that it was built without a cent of redevelopment money.

Other developers are asking the Community Redevelopment Agency for taxpayer-funded contributions to get their projects going. City officials are negotiating controversial redevelopment subsidies for Melvin Simon & Associates so it can build its proposed $400-million Hollywood Promenade just to the east of the Galaxy project, which is at Hollywood Boulevard and Sycamore Avenue.

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Simon contends that Hollywood’s urban blight and crime problems, coupled with the financing hardships caused by the recession, make it all but impossible to build in Hollywood without redevelopment subsidies.

Not so, say Kornwasser & Friedman executives, who kept on pushing their plans through city bureaucracy after they were denied CRA money.

“It’s been frustrating--we’re in a recession and it’s very hard,” said Joseph Kornwasser, a partner in the firm, which builds shopping centers around the nation.

“We’ve done everything and more to accomplish this project,” he said, standing proudly outside the Galaxy as workers behind him put some finishing touches on one of the theaters. “And we’ve done it without anyone’s help.”

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That kind of can-do attitude won over the project’s major tenant, General Cinema, which at first was hesitant to come to Hollywood. “We’re very comfortable with the investment we’ve made into the future,” said General Cinema Corp. President Paul Del Rossi in an interview from Boston. He said the motion picture complex will be the first one to be built on Hollywood Boulevard in five decades.

The process has been anything but easy.

Kornwasser and partner Jerry Friedman said they have put more time and effort into the project than they have into other shopping centers six times as large, including one they built in Corona in Riverside County.

The project originally had been scheduled for completion in 1989, but opposition by homeowner groups and city agencies forced the developers to return to the drawing board three times, to reduce the project’s size and height, and change its architecture to make it more airy. The changes took years and increased the cost of the project by $8.5 million to a total of $48 million, Kornwasser said.

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At one point several years ago, after all city permits had been obtained, the developers realized that Metro Rail wanted the site for its planned Red Line through Hollywood. That snafu was cleared up, and Metro Rail backed off after six months of wrangling, according to Michael Dubin, the Kornwasser & Friedman vice president who shepherded the project through the city.

“We were put through the ringer quite a bit,” Kornwasser said, “and we’re still not done. Thank God we have a project for all our efforts, not a hole in the ground.”

Kornwasser and Friedman said they had a particular reason for being so steadfast in insisting on finishing the Galaxy project: They both grew up near Hollywood.

“This has a special place in our hearts,” Kornwasser said.

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“It was a challenge for us,” added Friedman, “but a real labor of love.”

Some final details have yet to be completed, including which tenants will fill some of the 60,000 square feet set aside for retail shops. In all, the project will take up 150,000 square feet, with 700 parking spaces in four underground levels. An outdoor food court just below ground level will feature many kinds of cuisine, and the retail shops will take up the ground floor. The movie houses will be on the third floor. There will also be two sit-down restaurants and a Sam Goody music store.

The developers hope the combination of stores will attract tourists as well as locals.

All that can be seen from the street so far is the General Cinemas theater with its giant marquees on both sides of the complex’s central atrium, and a list of some of the stores that have already pledged to fill 86% of the retail space.

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But there is much anticipation and speculation on how the complex will fare.

“When is the Ben & Jerry’s (ice cream shop) gonna be open?” one teen-ager asked Kornwasser and Friedman as they surveyed the site. Their answer was not the one the teen-ager was looking for.

“March? I have to wait that long? " she whined. With a dejected shrug, she headed back onto Hollywood Boulevard and walked away.

Patrick Kitover, a salesman at the International Love Boutique sex shop directly across from the Galaxy, said the project is a welcome sight. “There’ll be a lot more foot traffic coming this way that usually stops at Mann’s” Chinese Theatre, just to the east of the Galaxy.

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As Kenny Bayer and his friends walked by the imposing structure, they stopped for a look.

“It’s gonna be a real test case to see if this area makes it, if people will come here,” said Bayer, a lawyer who works nearby. “I think they did a real nice job. It’s got a lot of appeal from the street.”

His fellow lawyer, Mike Meade, wasn’t so sure. “I don’t like all this glitz,” he said. “The tile work is nice, but the (huge Galaxy) sign’s too tacky.”

Joseph Hill, a Guardian Angel patrolling the area, fears that the Galaxy will attract a lot of transients, and with them, shoplifting, robberies and other crimes. “I hope I’m wrong,” he said.

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In an interview, Kornwasser said that the complex will have its own security and that loitering will be discouraged.


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