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Alhambra Auto Row Plan Begins to Worry Small Firms

May 23, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA — The Fosselmans have been making and selling ice cream on Main Street since 1940, and the Jay Dee Cafe, across the street, has been serving beer and hamburgers since 1944.

They are firmly established as small businesses, but on city redevelopment maps, Fosselman's Ice Cream Co. appears as the future home of Bob Wondries Ford, and the cafe is designated for expansion by the neighboring Century Motor Sales.

Both are among 75 to 100 buildings and homes the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency is considering acquiring to create an Alhambra Auto Row on Main Street, from Raymond Avenue east to Atlantic Boulevard.

Project at Early Stage

The project is at an early stage, with costs to the city agency and auto dealers still unknown. Neither dealers nor city councilmen, who also serve as directors of the Redevelopment Agency, have committed themselves to the project, and it would take three years to complete the Auto Row, but those who might be displaced are already worried.

"I feel threatened," said Jim Fosselman, 63, one of three brothers who run an ice cream business their father founded. Fosselman, two others and the county all filed suit to block the project on grounds that Main Street is not blighted and, therefore, is ineligible for redevelopment. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lester Olson ruled in the city's favor last year, and the county dropped the case, but Fosselman and the other taxpayers are appealing.

Michael Napolitano, deputy director of the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency, said the city is willing to help auto dealers expand, even at the cost of moving other businesses, because the dealers generate so much revenue for the city.

Somewhat of a Landmark

Frank Lima, 36, manager of the Jay Dee Cafe, a cocktail lounge and restaurant that his father and a partner opened more than 40 years ago, said it hurts him to see the city willing to push the cafe aside even though it has become somewhat of an Alhambra landmark. He said he doesn't want to move, but "if we do move, we want equal to what we have now." He said "equal" in this case might be difficult to achieve because the property includes ample parking--space for 60 cars--and income-producing rental units.

But both Lima and Fosselman said that, despite their misgivings, they are willing to listen to the Redevelopment Agency's offers. Redevelopment law requires the agency to pay fair market value for property and relocation expenses of businesses and other tenants.

Napolitano said the redevelopment agency is free to acquire property despite the pending lawsuit.

40% of Sales Taxes

Alhambra's 14 car dealers sold more than 11,000 new and 3,000 used cars last year, according to a study made for the Redevelopment Agency by Economics Research Associates. In 1983, the last year for which full financial figures were available, the study said, auto-related businesses produced $1.35 million in sales tax revenue for the city--40% of Alhambra's sales tax total.

City officials estimate that an expanded Auto Row--from the current 12 acres to 25--would produce $500,000 to $750,000 in additional revenue.

Napolitano said Alhambra car dealers are doing so well that they need room to expand. And they produce so much revenue that other cities would like to lure them away, he said, increasing the pressure on Alhambra to offer the dealers financial assistance.

Already Concentrated

Nine of Alhambra's 14 dealers are already concentrated in the seven-block area of Main Street between Raymond Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard. Plans for the Alhambra Auto Row would permit these dealerships to expand, would move dealerships from Atlantic Boulevard and Valley Boulevard to Main Street and would provide space for two or three additional dealers.

Napolitano said about a fourth of the 75 to 100 pieces of property being appraised for acquisition are residences, mostly homes on side streets at the rear of existing dealerships.

Dealers who need property for expansion have considered buying it themselves.

'Don't Want to Sell'

"People don't want to sell," said Lee Welinsky, vice president of Century Motor Sales. "And they're asking all sorts of prices."

Some property owners are talking about $15 to $20 a square foot as a fair selling price. Dealers are quoting $4 to $8 a square foot as the price they can afford.

The redevelopment agency would have to absorb the difference between what it pays for property and what it gets by reselling it to dealers. Napolitano said that while financial figures are still being developed, he expects the agency to spend about $8 million, including tenant relocation expenses.

No Ready Cash

One hitch in the project is that the R e development Agency does not have a ready source of cash to finance property acquisition.

City Manager Kevin Murphy has suggested that the dealers may have to finance their expansion themselves, with the agency compensating dealers over a period of years for the agency's share of costs. Dealer reaction to the idea has been mixed.

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