Brand merchants favor business district

Plans to boost the fortunes of Brand Boulevard businesses are popular with many property owners who would pay into a fund to add security patrols and promotional efforts downtown.

"At first blush, I don't mind contributing because Brand has a lot more potential than what it offers now," said George Birnbaum, who owns two buildings near the Alex Theatre, said.

Dennis Di Pietro, whose family owns several parcels at Brand and Colorado Street, said the proposed business improvement district would boost all interests.

"If you are to be in a successful neighborhood, you have to understand that you have to contribute for the area's generalized needs," he said.

The proposed district would raise nearly $1 million in its first year by assessing property owners 22 cents per square foot to pay for security, promotion, cleaning and maintenance. The proposed zone is bounded by the Ventura (134) Freeway, Orange Street, Colorado Street and Maryland Avenue.

All 168 property owners in the area may vote on whether the district should be created, said Rick Lemmo, a Caruso Affiliated executive who is president of the improvement district steering committee.

Yet the vote is weighted by parcel size and three major property owners — Caruso's Americana at Brand, the Glendale Galleria and the city of Glendale — own enough property to determine the outcome.

The Galleria and Americana strongly back the district, Lemmo said. The city has expressed support, but Mayor Ara Najarian and others on the City Council are wary of casting a potentially decisive vote on whether property owners should tax themselves.

"We would hate to have the city drive this, because it does result in an assessment on each parcel," Najarian said, adding that city officials want to hear from as many private property owners as possible.

Lemmo said he hopes to hold the vote early in 2011 and, if successful, launch the district by March. One challenge, he said, is contacting owners, many of whom do not live in the area.

He estimated his group has reached about 55% of all owners via phone calls, e-mails or letters.

The plan calls for promotional efforts to lure more shoppers and diners to Brand, and non-sworn security "ambassadors" to keep an eye on issues, such as cleanliness and crime.

Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa has said he favors the plan.

Di Pietro's son, James, has said the district's governing board must be large enough to include smaller property owners.

His family also owns the Masonic Temple and nearby properties.

"There is no denying the Americana and the Galleria are the largest as far as contributions, so they should be represented," James Di Pietro said. "The concern about the size is that we want there to be an equal voice for the smaller businesses and owners along the boulevard."

Dennis Di Pietro pointed out that Brand Boulevard has multiple personalities, including office towers near the freeway, smaller businesses on mid-Brand and the big shopping centers to the south.

"Every business and every property owner has different priorities," he said. "You have to compromise to make things work, and to the (BID proponents') credit, this is the only way to successfully create this."

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