First phase of Gold Line extension begins on Saturday

L.A. County’s ambitious light-rail network is about to push deeper into the San Gabriel Valley, and five cities along the route of the long-awaited Gold Line extension hope the trains will bring with them new development.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will break ground Saturday on a $690 million, 11.3 mile extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena through Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa. The line is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

Real estate developers and politicians are hoping the line will pave the way for some new residential and commercial developments in the cities.

Much of their enthusiasm centers around so-called “Transit-Oriented Developments” — the idea that local economies thrive when they offer public transportation, housing, and retail in the same space. Some of these developments would be denser than what the suburban cities are typically used to.

“There’s something about rail that creates an anchor for economic development,” said Michael Cano, transportation deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor and MTA board member Michael Antonovich.

Monrovia is one of the more ambitious cities.

Monrovia’s proposed Station Square project would rise next to the future site of its Gold Line station, just south of the 210 Freeway. Monrovia has already invested $30 million into the project and is negotiating public-private partnerships with multiple commercial real estate developers, Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz said.

For the first phase of the project, Monrovia plans to partner with the commercial real estate developer Samuelson & Fetter, Lutz said.

The project’s first phase will include approximately 700 apartment units, 450,000 square feet of office space, and 30,000 square feet of retail space, according to Blaine Fetter, the Principal/Organizer at Samuelson & Fetter. Some of those apartments and offices will be completed by the time the train begins operation in 2014, he said.

He estimated the market value of the first phase of the Station Square project at approximately $300 million to $450 million.

Development plans aren’t quite as lofty or as immediate in Irwindale, but City Manager Sol Benudiz said he hopes the city can eventually attract some development near the line.

"[The line] adds value to everything,” Benudiz said. “We would be so much worse off if it didn’t stop here.”

Arcadia, the first new stop on the extended line, is also looking at development options. Arcadia City Council member Gary Kovacic said the city is seriously considering a “mixed-use” development project at the site of its station.

Kovacic also said the Gold Line will create a new option for commuters in Arcadia, because it finally connects them to the network of light rail that runs throughout much of L.A. County.

“I think it’s something we need to do as a society — to use public transportation more,” Kovacic said.

Major developments have been built near some parts of the L.A.'s rail lines. Numerous mixed-use residential and retail projects have risen along the Red Line in Hollywood and North Hollywood, as well as along the Purple Line on Wilshire Boulevard. Long Beach has also developed retail centers around the Blue Line.

But others parts of the rail network have yet to attract significant development. And it remains unclear how much of the cities’ grand plans will come to fruition — particularly if the real estate market remains in a slump.

Pete Siberell, director of community service and special events at the Santa Anita Park and vice president of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce, isn’t so convinced that the Gold Line will significantly impact business in the city.

For the 2009 Breeder’s Cup, Santa Anita Park offered a free shuttle to the Gold Line. Only about 1% of the fans used the shuttle, Siberell said.

And even though the racetrack sits just four blocks from the future site of the Arcadia station, Siberell doesn’t expect a major increase in fans using the Gold Line.

“Unless we get some big help from MTA with promotion dollars, I don’t think it will be fantastic,” Siberell said. “But we will certainly work hard to take advantage of it.”

The Gold Line extension is the first project funded by Measure R to move to construction. The measure, passed by voters in 2008, will raise $30 billion to fund mass transit projects through a sales tax.

Measure R will only fund this portion of the Gold Line extension, known as Phase 2A. The MTA hopes to eventually connect the Gold Line to LA/Ontario International Airport with a Phase 2B extension. Habib Balian, Chief Executive of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority, said that Phase 2B could break ground in 2015, although it hasn’t yet secured funding.

Balian said officials hope the Azusa link will be followed by links to Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont, Montclair and then to LA/Ontario Airport.

For now the lawmakers, MTA leaders and developers are all celebrating this first extension. They will meet for a formal groundbreaking Saturday morning at New Castle Park in Arcadia.

Many see the extension as a huge economic opportunity for the cities on the new line.

South Pasadena resident Anthony George said it might take some time for cities on the new route to see all the benefits. Years ago, he saw the arrival of a Gold Line station in his community. He said that the train eventually brought life to the city, but warned that the benefits don’t come overnight.

“These things take a long time,” George said. “Even in South Pasadena, it took us a while to realize what the train really offered.”