WILSHIRE CENTER : Trees Give Boost to 'Streetscape' Project

The 10 crape myrtle trees planted May 14 along 7th Street and Irolo Avenue as part of a Wilshire Center revitalization project aren't expected to blossom for another two years, but the effort to rally the community around the beautification idea already is showing results.

The trees, and another 2,500 to be planted this year, are one element of the Wilshire Center Streetscape Project, a $4.5-million plan to spruce up the area with new benches, bus stops, lights and signs, a median strip down the boulevard, and other landscaping and physical improvements.

"It all starts with the trees," said Gary Russell, the project manager. "The simple act of planting a tree shows that with a little effort you can make a change in your environment."

Wilshire Center businesses and office buildings have been hit hard by the recession and by the noise, dust and physical obstructions of Metro Rail construction. The Wilshire Chamber of Commerce conceived the "streetscape" project as a way to spur a comeback.

"We're trying to say that this area is worth investing in and doing business in again," Russell said.

So far, organizers have commitments for about half of the project's projected budget from federal, state, city and private sources. In addition, the chamber and others are lobbying the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide $16.2 million for programs to mitigate the negative effects of subway construction.

The MTA approved a $27.7-million mitigation program for the Hollywood area that includes money for graffiti abatement, marketing programs for affected businesses, noise-reduction measures and parking validation incentives. Wilshire Center businesses say they deserve similar assistance.

Subway construction is "making it tougher for us to be competitive," Russell said. "There's a lot of anger out there. If there are no businesses left here, there's no reason to have a (Metro Rail) station here. The MTA has made a major investment in this area and they need to protect it."

Russell, head of a Wilshire Center architectural firm, said that although business people have taken the lead in the "streetscape" program, residents will play a more important role as time goes on.

With residential neighborhoods on either side of the Wilshire Boulevard commercial strip, "we're not an island," Russell said. "We have to listen to where the community wants to go with this and not just impose it."

Apartment managers are vital to the project, said Frank Tysen, a member of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles and the chairman of the chamber's apartment committee. "To organize neighborhoods, you have to go block-by-block, and you need a group of managers who will do graffiti abatement, get rid of couches left on the sidewalk and coordinate anti-crime walks," Tysen said.

"It's a lot of work but a lot of fun too," said Abel Ramos as he took a break after digging a three-foot hole for one of the trees.

Ramos, an apartment manager, said he and a few of his colleagues try to make their block a better place to live: "We talk to our tenants and tell them that if they're going to drink and play music to do it inside their apartments. We clean the street every day except Sunday. If we like to live in a nice neighborhood, we have to do it."

The "streetscape" project will start July 9.

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