San Fernando Valley Business Journal: Glendale’s New Center of Attention

San Fernando Valley Business Journal: Glendale’s New Center of Attention

Neighborhoods in Los Angeles with panache? Silverlake. Yeah. Atwater Village. Sure. And Glendale. What?

You may not be aware that downtown Glendale has made a transition from sleepy to swanky over the past decade. Downtown Glendale is a safe, walkable, vibrant 18-hour urban district with all the jobs, housing, shopping, dining and entertainment one could imagine.

It is “green,” with an emphasis on transit and “park once and walk everywhere.” Most importantly, it has created ever-increasing profits for property owners and businesses, and ever-increasing sales tax and property tax dollars for local governments.

And it is a replicable model for many cities and retail districts in Southern California.

Cities are struggling. They have lost redevelopment agency dollars. Many cities are running out of developable room to create sources of sales tax revenue.

Downtown Glendale had some vacant space, but a major portion of its recent transformation involved reusing property that was not making a contribution.

During this past decade, Glendale faced other challenges as well. Like many local communities, Glendale was a mostly neighborhood city. The idea of concentrating thousands of new housing units downtown raised a lot of eyebrows. Density was new.

Additionally, most of the development and developers came from “out of town,” risking resentment from locals.

Glendale overcame these challenges through extensive outreach and dozens of community meetings. In November 2006, the city council passed the Downtown Glendale Specific Plan. It aimed to promote quality development, create an 18-hour downtown district that protected the residential neighborhoods from commercialization and adopt a mobility plan to fight traffic congestion.

One major portion of the plan created a programmatic environmental impact report. This meant that all residential development occurred under the umbrella of one EIR, rather than asking for separate, costly and time-consuming EIRs for each project.

Harder to quantify, but just as important, was a change in attitude that occurred when city employees began to welcome businesses as partners.

What are the results of the plan?

More people. Approval of nearly 4,000 residential apartments and condos. Currently there are 3,100 built in some of the most intriguing and award-winning architectural styles anywhere in the country. More units are on the way.

More culture. Creation of a Downtown Arts and Entertainment District, flanked by the new Museum of Neon Art and the 90-year-old Alex Theatre. Another new arrival to the scene is the talented Antaeus Theatre group, which will relocate from North Hollywood to Broadway – as in the street named Broadway in Glendale.

More shopping and dining. A major burst of shops – both large and small – started with adding The Americana at Brand to the Glendale Galleria. That gave shoppers unprecedented choices, with major merchants such as Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble and The Apple Store, to name just a few. The Americana is one of the top 15 retail centers in the nation when measured by sales per square foot. And smaller family-owned stores and restaurants are thriving. Porto’s Bakery, for instance, launched its success from Glendale.

The Downtown Glendale Association of property owners has contributed by taking ownership of the farmers’ market and supplying it with a group of uniformed workers who keep the streets clean, offer directions and parking meter instructions and help shoppers and their bags get to their cars.

Sales tax generated in the district has grown from $3.9 million in 2008 to $5.3 million this year and is projected to rise to $6.5 million by 2019. Retail occupancy has grown to 98 percent in the district. Office occupancy is at 86 percent.

And success breeds success. Caruso Affiliated, which operates The Americana, recently purchased the Masonic Temple on Brand. This 9-story property had been under-utilized for decades, but now will house 68,000 square feet of mixed use commercial, restaurant and retail space.

We urge any city looking to replicate the Downtown Glendale plan to look at three things we have done:

Eliminate the gross receipts tax on business. It’s a short-term pain exchanged for a long-term gain.

Embrace millennials. We made it attractive for people who don’t want a lawn with a picket fence to live in a very cool place. Density is good.

Commit to making the city walkable and safe for pedestrians and cyclists. We sacrificed the almighty auto on this altar because we wanted people on our streets.

Given the challenges of traffic congestion, demands from the state and federal governments and business competition, cities need to work harder than ever to keep their downtowns vital and growing. Our plan came together in Glendale. We’ll be happy to share it with you.

Rick Lemmo is president of the Downtown Glendale Association and senior vice president for community relations for Caruso Affiliated.