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This Pitch Slides Past Rodeo Drive : Beverly Hills: With 25% of its office space vacant, the city is trying to lure wealthy businesses by showing there's more to the area than one glamorous street.

February 21, 1991|KAREN DENNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Beverly Hills, a city known for its exclusive shopping, is making a new sales pitch: There's a lot more there than Rodeo Drive.

Members of the city's Far East Trade Commission recently spent a week in Tokyo and Hong Kong trying to lure wealthy businesses--especially in the entertainment industry--to Beverly Hills. On Tuesday, they gave highlights of their trip at the City Council meeting.

Although one of the reasons for the trip was to promote increased tourism to the city's hotels, restaurants and stores, the emphasis was on filling the city's vacant office space, estimated at about 25%. Nearly 300,000 square feet of office space remains empty because of the collapse of Beverly Hills giants Drexel Burnham Lambert and Columbia Savings & Loan.

City representatives, including Mayor Allan Alexander and Chamber of Commerce President Ed Brown, spent 11 days pitching the prestigious Beverly Hills locale to prospective tenants. The group met with executives from Sogo Yokohama, Japan's largest department store, 20th Century Fox Tokyo, National/Panasonic, Sony Media World, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations, and the Japan External Trade Organization. The contingent also met with executives from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which recently purchased MCA Inc. for $6.59 billion in November.

Murray Fischer, incoming chamber president, said Beverly Hills wants to increase more than tourism. "We're looking for economic development. We're looking to bring people from Asia into our city. We're looking to make a substantial business."

The trip was a huge public relations plug for Beverly Hills. Members of the group were interviewed by numerous publications including Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Japan's largest business newspaper.

Brown said many of the people they met "thought Beverly Hills was just a rich neighborhood of Los Angeles. . . . Some were afraid to come to our area due to what they had heard about gang violence and air pollution in L.A."

Commission members said they went a long way toward correcting that image. Max Factor III, a member of the board of directors of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, justified the trip saying "without Beverly Hills standing on its own . . . we will simply be gobbled up by our wealthier city competitors."

Beverly Hills has a reputation unlike many other cities, and city business leaders are not sheepish about exploiting it.

"It's the same story wherever you go in the world," said Councilman Bernard J. Hecht. "Beverly Hills is held in awe. We've got something to sell. We've got something to offer."

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