PASADENA — The Pasadena Marketplace project, long seen as the cornerstone of Old Pasadena's revitalization, has been on what some have called a long, bumpy roller coaster ride to nowhere.
For years, business people and city officials have watched as deals fell through, partnerships collapsed and optimistic plans sank into a quagmire of disputes.
"It makes my heart ache just looking over there," said Sammy Zaribaf, owner of Rosicler's, a restaurant facing the long, decaying block of buildings on Colorado Boulevard. "I personally have given up hope they will ever build it."
After four years of delays, the Marketplace on Monday will go before the Board of Directors, which will begin a round of hearings to determine whether the project will be built and under what conditions.
It is a decision that developers, business people and historical preservationists say will decide not only the project's fate, but also the shape of development in historic Old Pasadena.
The developers, Pasadena Marketplace Ltd., say the $60-million, 350,000-square-foot retail and entertainment center would provide hundreds of jobs, millions in tax revenue and would spark a vibrant redevelopment of Old Pasadena, where the project is widely supported.
But opponents, largely made up of historical preservationists, have waged a persistent campaign that attacks the project as oversized, phony and economically dubious.
"We are feeling more and more certain that this project is not going to work," said Claire Bogaard, executive director of the historical preservation group, Pasadena Heritage. "We're all afraid the city could end up with a white elephant that you wouldn't be able to do anything with."
The Marketplace was proposed in 1984 by developer John Patrick Wilson, who, with the financial backing of television producer Garry Marshall, purchased a block of turn-of-the-century buildings on Colorado Boulevard, west of Fair Oaks Avenue.
Wilson's plan was to turn the block into a trendy shopping mall, with movie theaters, food stands and chic boutiques behind the facades of the old buildings. An antique trolley would run past the Marketplace and around the perimeter of Old Pasadena.
Unlike the rest of Old Pasadena, where buildings have been renovated one by one, stores in the Marketplace would be united by an enclosed walkway and alleys.
Developers say the historic ambiance of Old Pasadena and the chic collection of shops would create an environment that would draw shoppers from around the region.
The city invested $27 million to build two parking garages with 1,446 spaces for merchants now in the area, but more specifically for the expected onslaught of Marketplace shoppers.
Bruce D. Phillips, executive director of Pasadena Marketplace Ltd., said the project's size is important.
A smaller project would not only be less profitable, but also fall short of becoming a regional attraction.
"There is a critical mass that will attract people to the whole area," Phillips said. "The city knows and we know that you have to have a project like this to make it happen."
The scale of the project is a major concern of historical preservationists, who say it threatens to overwhelm the rest of Old Pasadena.
A project as large as the Marketplace would require the demolition of some of the historic walls and roofs of the old buildings. But the project would preserve the facades of the buildings, the alleys and the street atmosphere of Old Pasadena, Phillips said.
"There is some damage to the historic fabric of the area, but for the long-term preservation of the entire district, we have to compromise," he said. "I think we have mitigated that damage to the point where it is an acceptable compromise."
Foot Traffic Affected
Bogaard said the central walkway, which would provide access to second-story shops, not only would require the demolition of historic portions of the buildings, but also would change the focus of Old Pasadena from Colorado Boulevard to the inside of the Marketplace mall.
"People love walking the streets," she said. "It's working well now in Old Pasadena and we think it should stay that way."
Some merchants also are worried that shoppers would tend to stay inside the mall and not venture out.
"Something has to be done over there, but if they would just not enclose it," said January Winchester, manager of Z Gallery, which is across from the Marketplace site on Colorado Boulevard. "It would be great to just have a bunch of cute shops over there, just like on our side of the street."
City officials, merchants and preservationists also worry about the developers' ability to finance a project as large as the Marketplace.
Since the project began, several financial partners have backed out or backed away because of long delays.
The first was Birtcher, a national development company that joined the partnership in 1986 and helped secure a $106-million construction loan.