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Civic Center Stalls With No Developer : Van Nuys: Officials blame the area's image for the city's failure to attract a partner in the project. It is seen as a major setback to revitalization.

January 23, 1991|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Plans to expand the Van Nuys Civic Center have been put on hold after Los Angeles city officials failed to attract a private developer for the project, dealing yet another setback to the revitalization of aging Van Nuys Boulevard.

Construction of a new office building at the southeast corner of Van Nuys and Sylvan Street was considered an important step in the area's 13-year quest to turn itself around and shed its image as a jumble of government buildings surrounded by adult bookstores, pawn shops and auto dealers.

Community leaders had hoped the project, which was to be a joint venture between the city and a private developer, would improve the neighborhood while attracting more capital to the heart of Van Nuys.

Rejuvenation of the commercial strip has been slow in coming, hampered in part by a lack of development guidelines and a perception that the boulevard is not a good place to build.

City officials and community leaders acknowledged Tuesday that the city's failure to find a developer for the site will slow improvements along the boulevard, but they were optimistic that the blow would not be fatal to the area's recovery.

"I don't think it's a life or death matter in terms of what happens in the area," said Marcia Mednick, a consultant for the Valley Economic Development Center, created in 1978 to revive the commercial area along Van Nuys Boulevard.

City officials had hoped to find a developer to build a 450,000-square-foot office building on land that is now occupied by parking lots near city, county, state and federal offices. The developer would have leased the land from the city, which in turn would have occupied about 85,000 square feet of the building, according to Maria Cardenas, the senior administrative analyst who oversaw the project. The rest of the building would have housed private offices and shops.

But when the city cast its line in June with what it thought was attractive bait--a corner lot in the heart of Van Nuys--it got just a few nibbles. And in the end, not a single developer bit.

Los Angeles officials said their request for proposals went unanswered largely because an economic downturn has made it difficult for developers to obtain financing. Cardenas said the city will make the offer again when the economy recovers.

But private planning consultants said the project may also have gone begging because speculative developers do not consider Van Nuys Boulevard a good bet.

They said the area around the Van Nuys Civic Center is not as accessible as such commercial strips as Sepulveda Boulevard, which runs parallel to the San Diego Freeway, or Ventura Boulevard, which follows the Ventura Freeway. Nor does Van Nuys have the prestige of addresses in Warner Center, Universal City or Burbank's Media District.

"It's not seen as a terribly attractive street," said David Rodriguez, vice president of Kosmont & Associates, a private Burbank consulting firm.

That's the reason Mednick and others said the building was so important. She said new buildings along the boulevard help alter the perception people have of the area, adding that construction gives the impression that a neighborhood is undergoing some sort of change and encourages new investment.

"It obviously captures your attention," she said.

A 1988 study identified the civic center as a focal point for development in the area, and in recent years, most new construction has occurred there. The study, Vision Van Nuys, was used to formulate the Van Nuys Central Business District Specific Plan, which is scheduled to come before the Planning Commission within the next few months.

Corey Mazzarini, chairman of the Van Nuys Chamber of Commerce planning and zoning committee, said the adoption of the Specific Plan should speed up the renovation of the boulevard, because it will provide a blueprint for the area as well as establish a set of ground rules for development. He said without such guidelines it is difficult to establish a vision for the boulevard.

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