Council votes 'no' on gym proposal

Burbank Leader

CITY HALL — Fresh off of approving a new comedy club and 24 Hour Fitness, Burbank officials have pushed back against proposed changes to the downtown shopping district, rebuffing a request to build a Gold's Gym and possibly more restaurants into the mixed-use Collection.

Development plans for the Collection allow 60% of the 39,770-square-foot space to be used as retail with the remaining space to be used for restaurants.

The City Council last week voted 3 to 2 to deny Bob Champion's request to fill roughly 20,000 more square feet with either restaurants or retail, and another 19,600 square feet for the Gold's Gym.

"I know it's tough economic times, but to me it seems like your short-term gain of throwing somebody in a space may have some long-term effects that are detrimental to the downtown area," said Mayor Anja Reinke, who was joined by Councilmen Jess Talamantes and David Gordon. "I worry about shooting from the hip just because some spaces are empty right now in tough economic times, which I think are going to get better."

Former Planning Board member David Gerred, the general manager of nearby Romanoski Glass and Mirror Company, cited problems with parking in surrounding areas.

"Nobody understands that the economy sucks worse than I do," he said. "This economy will not last forever, but the decisions that you make . . . you are changing that zoning forever."

The rejection was a departure from recent decisions on downtown land use, specifically the approval of Burbank Entertainment Village's proposal to allow more than 10,000 square feet of space reserved for retail to be used for restaurants.

It also comes on the heels of a belated decision to allow a 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport club on the 1900 block of Empire Avenue.

Champion said because of the poor economy, the Collection has struggled to attract retail tenants. Only two tenant spaces are occupied by retail businesses, with a third on the way. The remaining spaces are restaurants, or remain vacant.

The mixed-use project at 250 N. First St. includes 118 condominium units and a multilevel parking structure with 721 spaces. Financial troubles began as the project edged toward completion in late 2008.

As the lender, Wachovia, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy before being taken over by Wells Fargo, the value of the project plummeted below the loan, Champion said.

"A lot of other people probably would have walked away at that point, and I must confess there were several times I was wondering if I should, too," he said. "But I've been developing for 30 years. I'm very proud of the projects that I build. I'm very proud of this project."

But council members expressed three key concerns: additional parking demand; the potential reduction in the mix of retail and restaurant use; and the fact that another fitness club stands within earshot of the proposed Gold's Gym.

"You're talking about 50% — almost — of the square footage to go to a gymnasium use," Talamantes said. "I don't see a gymnasium being part of the heart and soul of that area."

Allowing the additional restaurants and gym would potentially increase the parking demand by as many as 65 spaces, Deputy City Planner Michael Forbes said.

But the gym would have peak demand during morning and early evening, while the other businesses tend to fill up on evenings and weekends, Forbes said.

Councilman Dave Golonski, who opposed the Burbank Entertainment Village proposal, argued that the gym would complement the area, but was not in favor of expanding restaurant uses.

"I would love to see anchor high-end retail down there," he said. "I think that was a little bit of a pipe dream, and given the state of the economy, I don't know how long you might wait."

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