Tight funding causes second thoughts on city projects

With pressure mounting on city resources in the wake of redevelopment’s demise, several Glendale City Council members this week expressed second thoughts about several major downtown area projects that were approved more than a year ago.

The Museum of Neon Art planned for the 200 block of South Brand Boulevard across from the Americana at Brand, and the Laemmle Lofts, a five-screen movie theater below 42 residential units at the corner of Wilson and Maryland, were targeted Tuesday by Councilmen Dave Weaver and Rafi Manoukian as being perhaps a bit more than the city can handle without the power of local redevelopment.

“At this point in time, it’s such a mess,” Manoukian said.

Despite some apparent buyer’s remorse, city officials said decisions to go ahead with the developments can’t be unwound. If they are, the city could be sued for breach of contract, they added, even if parts of the projects are caught in limbo due to a state mandate dissolving redevelopment agencies throughout California.

Councilman Ara Najarian called the back-and-forth “Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

Redevelopment allowed Glendale officials to shovel incrementally higher property tax revenues that resulted from redevelopment into new development and affordable housing projects for more than three decades. Since the state mandate ending that practice took effect in February, local officials have been grappling with how to salvage previous commitments without spending money meant for public services and other programs.

Last week, the so-called Oversight Board — a group made up of city, school and county representatives who are tasked with winding down Glendale’s redevelopment agency — approved plans to spend about $113 million over the first year of the dissolution on contracts with Walt Disney Co. and other items.

Much of the City Council’s criticism on Tuesday centered on leasing city-owned property to MONA and Laemmle for free or below-market rates.

“I guess Rick Caruso is the only one who gets free land in this city,” said Mayor Frank Quintero in response, referring to a deal brokered with the billionaire developer that brought the Americana at Brand to Glendale.

At the end of the nearly three-hour meeting, the council directed officials to ask the Oversight Board to allocate an additional $1.1 million for Laemmle to construct 45 parking spaces and an estimated $600,000 to build a pedestrian paseo outside MONA, which already has a $1-million redevelopment pledge.

But there was no disagreement over the need to convince the Oversight Board that the Alex Theatre — once owned by the Redevelopment Agency — should be transferred to the city. Otherwise, it could be sold on the open market.

Najarian said he wouldn’t mind if Disney bought the theater, but said he didn’t like the idea that it could be transformed into something like a bowling alley.

The city plans to lobby the Oversight Board in support of using property taxes to fund a $4-million expansion for the Alex Theatre and to solidify a $415,000 annual subsidy to the nonprofit Glendale Arts for managing the venue through 2015.

At the same meeting, the City Council approved moving forward with allowing a planned 173-room Courtyard by Marriott on the north-east corner of Central Avenue and Wilson Street, currently a city-owned parking lot, to be built with 130 fewer parking spaces than originally agreed upon. The project was supposed to have 174 parking spaces, but the developer asked for the reduction, citing tight financing and a survey saying the hotel would be viable with minimal parking.

The developer would instead pay $1.3 million to the city and about $27,000 each year to lease 74 spaces in a city-owned parking garage.

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