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Sport Chalet May Drop Shopping Center Plan : Retailing: The sporting goods chain expects to lease space for a store in Burbank. The fate of a $25-million complex on Foothill Boulevard is up in the air.


LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — The Sport Chalet may abandon plans to build the first major shopping center in La Canada Flintridge and intends to open a new outlet in Burbank, a company official said Tuesday.

The La Canada Flintridge-based company, a sporting goods retail chain, has signed a letter of intent to lease space in the newly opened Burbank Media City Center shopping mall, said Robert Haueter, vice president of marketing.

After a six-year battle to expand, the Sport Chalet in 1990 won city approval to build a $25-million shopping complex that was to set the tone and architectural style of new development along the Foothill Boulevard commercial strip.

But in the face of the recession, the company last year was granted an extension until this July to begin construction. Haueter said company executives now are grappling over whether to ask for another extension, reduce the size of the proposed complex "or walk away from it."

"With the economy the way it has been, it does not make a lot of sense to build a shopping center," he said. A decision is expected by June.

The successful chain, which began more than 30 years ago, had planned to replace its complex of outdated buildings with a new store and headquarters offices on an 11.7-acre site at Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway.

Chalet owners Norbert and Irene Olberz own the site, which they assembled over the years by buying up adjoining property.

After more than a year of debate and 23 public reviews, the City Council in July, 1990, approved plans for a 140,000-square-foot shopping center. The Chalet was to occupy about 50,000 square feet, with a Bristol Farms supermarket in another 25,000 square feet.

Opponents had argued that the proposed center was too large and would spur unwanted commercial development in a community with the quiet ambience of largely residential estates. Chalet officials maintain the city had pushed for development of a shopping complex in its quest to raise sales tax revenues. The chain is a major contributor of revenue to the city, which prohibits industry and has a limited base of businesses.

Controversy over the proposed shopping complex had deeply divided the community in the 1990 City Council election. Nevertheless, candidates supporting the development won the council majority.

"We wanted to build a Sport Chalet," Haueter said. "We were almost backed into building a shopping center. That was never our intent. We only did it to comply with the request from the city."

He said company officials now are considering "going back to our original idea" of building a new Sport Chalet and headquarters offices only.

Gabrielle Pryor, who was appointed city manager in 1990, said she has no knowledge that the city ever urged development of a shopping center rather than just a new Sport Chalet complex.

In any case, officials of the Chalet, which has opened a dozen other stores from San Diego to Oxnard in recent years, said only 60% of space in the proposed center had been leased, less than needed to begin construction.

The Chalet leases space at its other outlets and expects to sign a lease agreement for the Burbank store this month. The company would rather be a tenant than an owner, Haueter said.

The Chalet accounts for a large portion of the city's $1.3 million in sales tax revenue, Pryor said. Two other leading contributors--the now defunct Buffums department store chain and a Ralphs supermarket--left town last summer, causing a 2% loss in tax revenue. Despite those losses, Pryor said, the city "is doing fine."

She said officials in the city, which has a population of 20,800, have never counted on increased tax revenues from the proposed Sport Chalet shopping village.

Some observers questioned whether the opening of a store in Burbank would preempt construction of a Sport Chalet complex in La Canada Flintridge. But Pryor said she is confident that the Chalet will maintain its home base.

"We are right at the gateway to the Angeles National Forest," she said. "People stop off and buy stuff. We don't think those stores will ever disappear, so we are in good shape."

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