Culver City officials have targeted a 2,000-foot section of busy Sepulveda Boulevard for a face lift, an idea that they hope will spread to other aging commercial strips in the city.
Officials envision spruced-up landscaping, renovated storefronts, new paint jobs and repaired parking lots. They envision the clutter of pole and roof signs being replaced with matching awnings and uniform graphics.
The catch is that the program will be voluntary, with landlords and tenants having to reach into their own pockets for the improvements.
But landlords are already asking what the city intends to contribute to the project, especially when it comes to additional parking.
The city Redevelopment Agency took the first step in the program last week when it authorized a survey of the commercial strips along Sepulveda Boulevard between Jefferson Boulevard, Playa Street and Sawtelle Boulevard.
The Redevelopment Agency will will report back to the City Council in September on the businesses there and the extent of their deterioration.
"I think it's a hell of an idea. There are a lot of property owners in that stretch of property that have let a lot of strip centers go to pot," said Tim Giarraffa, whose alarm system business is located in the target area.
Other Cities' Efforts
Edward Henning, a Whittier-based consultant hired by the agency to devise the revitalization program, said that Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Whittier have adopted similar programs in which city officials and staff discuss the improvements and various redesign proposals with owners, merchants and the Chamber of Commerce.
Henning said he is looking into how the city might offer owners and tenants grants or subsidize low-interest loans to help fund the clean-up work.
"If it's made attractive enough, it could make for improvements that should have been done before by the landlord," he said. "It's really a matter of talking to the business community to see how they feel about it."
But council member Richard Brundo, who owns an interior design business on Sepulveda, said it is unlikely that the city would come to the aid of the commercial strip businesses.
"At this point, I don't envision the city or the agency would be involved in funding private property," said Brundo, a business tenant at 5512 S. Sepulveda Boulevard in the affected area.
Brundo said that city officials want to improve the city's commercial strips and started with Sepulveda Boulevard because the agency plans next year to add two new lanes to the two-lane street, considered the city's busiest thoroughfare.
Commercial strips started along major streets in many cities in the late 1940s as retailers looked for exposure to passing motorists. Competition for that attention and a lack of coordination has resulted in an eclectic mix of business signs along the strips.
Brundo said that signs for many of the approximately 80 hardware stores, paint shops, fast food outlets and other small business on Sepulveda Boulevard are old, faded and make the area appear run-down.
Some businesses already have made improvements on their facades and parking lots, Brundo said. He said that he had recently repainted and made other improvements on his business out of his own pocket.
More Parking Space Needed
But Mike Diamond, owner of a building that houses a motorcycle parts store on Sepulveda Boulevard, said that while aesthetic improvements are needed, the only way the many owners and tenants would agree to pay for them is if the city increases parking in the area, possibly by acquiring some property on which to build a parking garage.
"Even if you are a good Samaritan, I can't believe that people will be willing to remove their signs and plunk down money for the new ones, especially since the city allowed four or five fast food restaurants within the last two years (on Sepulveda Boulevard) and never considered parking," Diamond said.
However, Diamond said that if additional parking were part of the package, building owners and merchants--who could accommodate more customers--would look more favorably on the program.
Giarraffa, who recently moved his business to Sepulveda Boulevard to take advantage of exposure to traffic there, raised another possible problem.
Rent Hike Feared
He said he feared that if landlords improved property, they would also raise rents. That, he said, could force out some "mom and pop" businesses that operate on slim profit margins.
Brundo disagreed, saying that the improvements the city likely will ask for, such as new paint and awnings, are relatively inexpensive.
But he said that rents in the area are actually part of the problem because they are too low to encourage landlords to make improvements.
He said that bringing businesses together with city officials will be enough to get most businessmen to improve their shops and offices. The ones that do not agree at first will join the fix-up after they see what others are doing.
"Once they see a general cleanup in the neighborhood, they will do it. It's a matter of someone saying 'Let's do it,' " Brundo said.