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One to Grow On? : Almost Finished at Last, One Colorado Could Boost City Revenues--or Go Bust

August 16, 1992|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — It could make Old Pasadena hum like Westwood, city officials and business leaders say.

One Colorado, a $90-million courtyard retail center, is signing up big-time tenants like the Gap, Banana Republic and Crate & Barrel. A multiplex movie theater in the complex is already packing them in, and the project's official opening is scheduled for next spring.

This time, it's really going to happen, they say.

The idea of turning a dilapidated downtown block of 18 turn-of-the-century buildings into a specialty retail center has been floating around for almost a decade. At least half a dozen completion dates have been announced since developer John Patrick Wilson started buying up property in 1983.

But this time, even though about 40% of the space is still not leased, it's going to happen, they say.

"A lot of the problems have been construction delays; a lot have been economic," said Bruce Ackerman, executive director of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. "But as every week goes by, it looks better and better."

Construction workers are bustling around the former warehouses and manufacturing buildings, putting the finishing touches on future stores. And the blank facades along Colorado Boulevard, Union Street, and Fair Oaks and DeLacey avenues have sprouted signs that ballyhoo the spring opening.

An Italian bakery, Il Fornaio, is sending out mouth-watering smells from the Union Street side of the project, and you can see the bakers at work, kneading dough and shaping loaves (though, for the moment, you can't buy their products, which go primarily to hotels, restaurants and grocery outlets such as Bristol Farms and Jurgensen's).

But not all of the curious are bowled over as they wander through the distinctive inner courtyard, where an eight-screen AMC movie theater operates in a former produce market.

Doug Brignole, owner of a nearby health club, sees a forbidding vista of brick and masonry there. "I can't stand it," said Brignole, who turned down a deal for 25,000 square feet in the complex. "It's too hard, with all that pavement and brick and no greenery."

And some former residents of the block, which at one time was dismissed by city planners as a dilapidated neighborhood of transients and marginal businesses, say they have witnessed a thriving community of artists and local merchants being supplanted by uncaring corporations.

The former studio tenants, who still often gather at the Mexican restaurant El Toreo--one of the last remaining establishments from the 1970s--complain about the lack of commitment to artists despite a lot of lip service paid to the city as a cultural center.

"They say it's a cultural center, but where are the artists now?" asked painter Benjamin Katz.

There is a general feeling among artists and former denizens that the improvements are not necessarily for the better.

"Our whole community was wiped out," said artist Dorothy Garcia, a member of the city's arts commission who used to create her collages and assemblages in a studio on the One Colorado block.

"These new people are not necessarily people who live in and care about Pasadena," Garcia said. "It's not like you can go to Mr. Gap or Mrs. Banana Republic and say, 'Gee, I'd like to put some children's art in your store,' and they'd think it was appropriate."

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But this is not some quick-buck developer's scheme, business leaders and city officials say. It could be the special ingredient that makes the Pasadena pot boil, generating the jobs and sales tax revenue that the city desperately needs.

The idea is to encourage a kind of synergy between Old Pasadena's restaurants and clubs and the new project's retailing operations, Ackerman says.

"Right now, the balance is slightly more toward having fun, entertainment and eating," he said. "This will bring people to shop first, then they'll end up going to a show or a restaurant. That's what's lacking in Pasadena right now--a central retailing destination."

So far, the confirmed new tenants are the Gap, including GapKids and babyGap outlets; Crate & Barrel; Banana Republic; J. Crew; a.b.s., a women's clothing store; Il Fornaio, including a restaurant and bakery, and Johnny Rockets, a 1950s-style diner.

Two restaurants, La Salsa and Russell's, are open on the east side of Fair Oaks Avenue, on the ground floor of the project's parking structure.

The brick-lined courtyard will be landscaped in the fall, says Pamela White, president of One Colorado Inc., the leasing and development agency. And around the same time, the courtyard's distinctive fountain--a whimsical work by New York sculptor Steven Linn depicting streets workers fixing a water main break--will be turned on.

There will be a "soft opening" in November, with previews of things to come in some of the stores and a holiday celebration, then the grand opening next spring.

White acknowledges that the recession is slowing down the procession of tenants into the complex.

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