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Valley Perspective

There's Life After GM : Redevelopment of plant brings hope to Panorama City

August 18, 1996

For years, the General Motors plant in Panorama City symbolized a community full of optimism and opportunity. When the plant shut down in 1992, after years of scaling back production and workers, the vacant complex turned quickly to a symbol of a community on the skids. But the Van Nuys Boulevard site may yet again serve as an engine of revival, particularly if the current pace of developing the property can be maintained.

This month, the development team working to turn the site around announced that it has already secured tenants to fill more than half of a planned retail center set to open late next year. The tenants include a supermarket, a clothing store, a restaurant and a movie theater--the sort of places that can both serve neighborhood residents and attract new investment into the community.

In addition, the partnership says that several companies have expressed interest in occupying some of the planned industrial space, although none have so far committed to become tenants. Overall, the project envisioned by Selleck Properties and the Voit Cos. is expected to generate work for about 2,000 people--a great boost to a community that has suffered as jobs and the middle-class residents who held them slowly but inexorably moved elsewhere.

That trend appears to be slowly turning around. In fact, the Selleck-Voit project is among a healthy handful of new ventures in Panorama City, although it is by far the largest and most important. Even a notoriously dangerous stretch of Blythe Street, which has long been emblematic of the community's decline, has been showing signs of improvement as landlords band together to force out drug-dealing gang members.

Hurdles remain, though. Although General Motors donated five acres of the 100-acre site for a police substation, Los Angeles officials are having a tough time finding the money to build the facility. To businesses, the perceived risk of investing in Panorama City was alleviated by the assurance that there would be a 24-hour police presence at the project. And nearby residents insist on the substation before they will support construction of the movie theaters, which would be the second-largest in the Valley and likely attract large crowds.

Part of the problem is that aging police stations around the Valley are in need of repair and expansion. It's hard to justify spending what little public money there is to build a new station when older stations need attention. Some have suggested selling some of the five acres to a private developer to help fund construction. That's a good idea, but one that isn't likely to be feasible until after the Selleck-Voit project is finished and shows other potential investors that the area is on the rebound.

Until then, the absence of the police station should not slow the development process. Too much positive momentum has built up. Delaying the project would only hurt a neighborhood that has suffered too much already.

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