Business improvement district gains steam

A private effort to bolster business on Brand Boulevard has slowed, even as city leaders worry that budget cuts might limit city maintenance in the core business district.

The owner of the Glendale Galleria — an important player in any future business improvement district downtown — has sent mixed signals. Last month, General Growth Properties representatives said they would not participate in creating the district, but recently their tone has changed to full-fledged support.

The Chicago-based company owns nearly one-fifth of the proposed district — which stretches from the Americana at Brand to the Ventura (134) Freeway — and its support is considered vital.

General Growth spokesman David Keating said the company just wants more information on the plan.

“We support the business improvement district 100%,” he said.

But last month, the company told members of the district steering committee that it would not participate in the vote to form the district, in which 168 property owners in the area bounded roughly by the 134 Freeway, Orange Street, Colorado Street and Maryland Avenue would raise about $1 million per year for enhanced security, maintenance and promotion of the Brand Boulevard corridor.

And at a City Council budget meeting, City Manager Jim Starbird said the company had “flopped in their position on the BID.”

The creation of the district is backed by the Americana at Brand and merchants including Porto’s Bakery who see it as a way to revitalize Brand Boulevard and attract more shoppers.

Public Works Director Steve Zurn told the City Council last week that sidewalk cleaning along Brand might be reduced or eliminated as the city tries to bridge an $18-million budget deficit.

“In the overall scope of things, when we are talking about repairing streets and paving streets and fixing sidewalks, this is not an essential program,” Zurn said.

Helen McDonagh, owner of the Glendale Massage Envy franchise and president of the Downtown Glendale Merchants Assn., said that with government cuts looming, private enterprise must pay to help itself.

“Jerry Brown can’t take this away from us,” McDonagh said.

Property owners responsible for more than half the proposed assessments must vote in favor of the district. The Americana, the Galleria and the city — which owns several parking lots in the area — are the largest property owners in the area.

Because the owners of retail and commercial operations are asked to pay a greater share per square foot, the Americana would be the largest contributor, at about $190,000 per year. The city and Glendale Redevelopment Agency would be responsible for about $25,000 a year.

Mayor Laura Friedman said the city wants to see private property owners drive the effort, and the Redevelopment Agency has not yet decided whether to cast a vote on creating the district.

The Galleria hedged last month. But Rick Lemmo, a Caruso Affiliated executive who is head of the business improvement district steering committee, said he will sit down with General Growth officials in the next few weeks to answer their questions.

Lemmo said General Growth’s point person on the district was former Galleria General Manager Chris Bilotto, who left the company in March.

“They indicated definitely yes” when Bilotto was on board, Lemmo said. “All they’ve indicated since is to please understand we are not against the [business improvement district], but before we allow things to go forward we need a formal understanding at a higher level.”

At around the same time Bilotto left, Caruso acquired the Nordstrom building within the Galleria and announced plans to build a new home for the high-end retailer at the Americana. While the deal is a blow to General Growth, Lemmo and Keating said the two firms will work together to improve the retail climate downtown.


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