NORWALK — City officials are developing a plan to transform a nondescript boulevard south of the Civic Center into a Spanish-style village of sorts, to attract new businesses, shoppers and sales tax revenue.
The idea is to create in Norwalk a true central-city area called San Antonio Village, with "that smaller-scale feeling, not so urban," an official said.
But the plan is expected to give more than a face-lift to the mix of modern and aging commercial buildings, apartments and single-family houses along San Antonio Drive. Eventually, some buildings would probably be targeted for removal to make way for new businesses. Just what buildings may be replaced has not been determined.
Voluntary Approach Sought
If the plan is eventually approved by the City Council, officials say they will work with owners to improve their properties. If necessary, the Redevelopment Agency will try to buy property from willing owners and only use its power of eminent domain as a last resort, City Manager Richard R. Powers said.
"We would exhaust all of the voluntary approaches first," Powers said. "If 80% or 90% of a site were ready to go and there was a holdout, only then would we consider eminent domain."
Most of the San Antonio Village area, which includes 119 commercial properties and 34 residential properties, is in city redevelopment zones.
The City Council voted last month to spend $40,000 to hire Millard Archuleta Architects to design San Antonio Village and link the project architecturally with one of the city's largest shopping centers, Norwalk Square, at the southern end of the village. Millard Archuleta has designed numerous regional malls in the Los Angeles area, including the Los Cerritos Mall. City officials began meeting with the architect last week. The architect's plan is expected to be completed in two to three months.
Mandate for Growth
San Antonio Village is to be the first major project under the direction of Powers, who was hired by the City Council last July with a mandate to spur development in Norwalk.
"It will enhance the city's image and identity, and focus on what many people believe to be the heart of the city," Powers said.
Jeffrey A. Bruyn, deputy city manager of community development, said Spanish-style architecture is favored for the San Antonio Village area because it is a timeless style that is relatively inexpensive to build.
The design is expected to include facade remakes, special street lights, benches and other similar elements to transform the nondescript street into the village. Officials also hope to build a community athletic complex next to Norwalk Park, and perhaps new senior citizen housing.
"The community has a serious need for a gymnasium and indoor athletic facilities," Powers said.
Once the plan is complete, city officials will meet with area property owners and groups to seek their comments, Powers said. The plan must then go before the City Council for approval.
"You really don't have a project until the community has some level of consensus," he said.
Chamber to Study Plans
Fred Sica, executive director of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, said the group knew little about the plan and had taken no position.
"We need to take a look at it and make our feelings known," Sica said.
The city has commissioned a study to determine what types of businesses city residents want and what kinds and numbers of businesses Norwalk residents can support. The study, which is expected to be completed next month, will help determine the mix of new business the city will try to attract to San Antonio Village, officials said. Preliminary findings indicate the city's shoppers are venturing to regional malls in Cerritos, Downey and other areas, which costs Norwalk sales tax revenue.
One objective is to channel Civic Center traffic to Norwalk Square, which is being sold. To help do that, San Antonio Drive may be realigned to turn west at Orange Street and funnel into Pioneer Boulevard, Bruyn said. San Antonio Drive ends at the intersection of Pioneer Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue, forming a confusing and congested "five-points" intersection.
Bruyn said the prospective new owner of Norwalk Square, West Venture Development Co. of Encino, is considering a new mix of businesses, including a movie theater, which would be more attractive to area residents.
Mix of Financing
The work along San Antonio Drive would be financed by a mix of federal grant money, redevelopment funds and contributions from individual developers or property owners if they decide to participate, Powers said. If all goes smoothly, San Antonio Village would be completed in three to five years, he added.
Eventually, the Civic Center and surrounding area also will be redesigned into a mall-type complex to complement the proposed San Antonio Village.
Officials hope the proposed village will do more than attract new development to the city.
"It creates pride in the community," Bruyn said. "Pride is an important thing."