They have long had to put up with overflowing garbage cans, persistent graffiti and aggressive panhandlers.
But even worse for garment district property owners was the poor image that hovered over Downtown after the 1992 riots, in which some some buildings in the Civic Center were vandalized and damaged.
It was too close for comfort for some tenants, who threatened to leave as the problems seemed to worsen.
Stanley Hirsh, owner of the Cooper Building, decided it was time for action, even if it meant proposing to fellow property owners that they tax themselves to pay for services traditionally funded by the city.
After a visit to special tax districts in Philadelphia and New York, where formerly rundown business areas had been transformed into vibrant trade zones, property owners got to work.
That was just 18 months ago, and although business tax assessment districts in Los Angeles are just catching on, the garment district is well on its way to forming what it hopes will be a $2-million-a-year tax district.
"The budget of the city no longer gives us street cleaning ability or good police protection," Hirsh said. "So unless we do it, our property values are going to go to pot."
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, whose territory includes the garment district, blames the city's inability to provide enough maintenance and security for the area on budget shortfalls.
"We are cutting back and there are less people to pick up the trash," said Bonnie Brody, an Alatorre aide. "If the city cannot provide all the services and is willing to work with the property owners so they can augment the services . . . it's a really great partnership."
In such a tax district, formally called business improvement districts, property owners are assessed a special tax in exchange for various improvements, including increased security, marketing and other amenities and services, some done by private firms.
Property owners in the garment district recently approved the idea by the state-required 51%. (In three years, the property owners would have to take another vote to continue the district.)
The Los Angeles City Council approved a motion recently to evaluate whether to create the business improvement district; a public hearing before the council is scheduled for May 16.
It is estimated the district would raise $2 million annually through additional assessments to property tax bills, with the first installment due in December. The proposed 56-block district is bounded by 7th Street, the Santa Monica Freeway, Main Street and San Pedro Street and includes about 1,000 businesses.
All businesses--regardless of whether they voted for the assessment--would pay a base $250, but the total assessment would depend on the location of the property and its size.
No one in the district is eager to tax themselves. But several property owners said it was either pitch in or watch the garment district steadily decline.
"I don't like it at all, but on the other hand I don't want this area to continue to deteriorate," said Richard Gerry, manager of Gerry Properties, which owns several buildings in the area. "I have a very big investment here and the city is not doing what it should be doing."
The garment district property owners are not alone in taking such action. Tenants along a seven-block area of Broadway last year formed the first business improvement district in Los Angeles, and similar districts are proposed in Westwood, Wilshire Boulevard and an industrial area along Slauson Avenue.
Estela Lopez, executive director of Miracle on Broadway, as the area's tax district calls itself, said the extra money was necessary to keep the retail district competitive with malls, which can offer private security and extra maintenance.
"We have people who say the street has never been cleaner or safer," Lopez said. On average, the 1,300 businesses in the district pay $600 for the special tax, which raises $420,000 annually.
In addition to extra security and street sweeping, the district has funded a police substation in the area for the Los Angeles Police Department. Using donated space, police were provided with computers, telephones, fax and copying machines. In return, police officers staff the station between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
"We can address the concerns of the business community because we work with them," said Officer Ray Yzquerra, who said officers began a bike patrol with bicycles paid for by the extra taxes.
The tax collected from garment district property owners is expected to pay for "friendly" public safety officers, maintenance services such as the cleaning of sidewalks with high-pressure water, graffiti removal, and extra trash pickups.