Central square at Americana transferred to city's books to keep from being sold by state

Though surrounded by the shops, residences and restaurants that make up the Americana at Brand, the park in the middle is a public one, and is at risk of being sold by the state as Glendale’s redevelopment agency winds down.

To protect the popular green space, the City Council unanimously voted this week to take advantage of a state rule that allows former redevelopment properties — like the park and the Alex Theatre — that are for “government use” to be transferred to the city’s books.

Although the provision has been used by other former redevelopment agencies, including the county of Riverside and the city of San Bernardino, this would be the first time Glendale officials have called on it.

Glendale officials plan to transfer the green space at the Americana at Brand and four other properties, including the parking structure in the arts and entertainment district on Maryland Avenue, by July.

However, a planned $5.2 million renovation project this summer at the Alex Theatre is a disincentive to transfer that property at this time.

If the city owned the theater, it, rather than the state, would have to pay for the expansion, which includes new dressing rooms and elevators.

“If we did transfer [the Alex] to the city, then the city would be on the hook,” City Manager Scott Ochoa said at a Tuesday City Hall meeting.

Because the expansion was planned as a redevelopment project before the agency was dissolved in February 2012, the city can request former redevelopment money from state finance officials to complete the work.

After the Alex Theatre renovations are complete and paid for, the city could attempt to use the “governmental use” provision to prevent the theater from being sold by the state to the highest bidder. The provision is broad and could cover parks, roads, school buildings and even museums, said Elena Bolbolian, a principal administrative officer with the city.

Redevelopment dissolution laws require that former redevelopment properties be sold to make the most profit for the state, which faced a multi-billion dollar budget gap last year. This, in part, caused city officials to explore ways to protect some of Glendale’s more vulnerable civic properties.

The council changed the zoning of the land beneath the Alex last year to prevent a future owner from converting it into a church or bowling alley.

When state officials first dissolved redevelopment agencies, the property transfer provision wasn’t available. But as local agencies complained about the strict rules set forth by the dissolution process, state lawmakers added extra provisions, like this one.

But even as city officials received some reprieve, some of the new rules, like this one, haven’t been completely clear.

“There are some provisions that just kind of unfold and nobody’s really sure how you’re supposed to go about them,” said Phil Lanzafame, Glendale’s officer for economic development and asset management.

The city is taking advantage of the transfer provision now because the timing is right. Glendale has yet to complete a long-range plan for its former redevelopment properties and other agencies have successfully used it, Lanzafame said.

But the transfer doesn’t go into effect right away. It must also be sanctioned by a panel of city, county and school officials, as well as by the state Department of Finance.

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