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One New, One Familiar Traffic Problem

Closing of Hollywood Blvd. Draws Criticism


At the world-famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, it was virtually impossible Thursday to hold a conversation as the teeth of heavy construction equipment tore at the boulevard and jackhammers pounded a steady drumbeat.

James Kim, owner of the Holly Vine Shoppe, a convenience store on the corner, said the MTA's sudden round-the-clock, four-block closure of Hollywood Boulevard was already costing him as tourists disappeared.

"We can't make any money," Kim said. "It's real bad."

Five floors above, dialogue editor Thomas Kearney was trying hard to edit a soundtrack while the rat-a-tat from pavement being ripped up rumbled through the window. "It's extremely annoying," he said.

Across the street, at the Pantages Theatre, ticket sales for "Cats" slowed down, although sidewalks and nearby parking lots remain open.

"We need to let people know that the show goes on as it always does," said marketing director Wayne McWorter.

Despite the inconvenience, theater officials praised the effort to restore the boulevard, because work that would have taken five months if done only between midnight and 9 a.m. instead is scheduled to be finished by early October.

But downtown, in the posh confines of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority boardroom, some irate Hollywood residents and business owners railed against Mayor Richard Riordan and MTA board members. They protested not receiving compensation for the suffering they believe will be caused by the planned 24-day shutdown of the boulevard between Vine and Gower streets.

Some also complained that they were not given notice or time to prepare for the closure, which was only approved by an MTA committee Wednesday afternoon, just hours before workers began tearing up the street to make way for a newly restored boulevard.

Riordan, who is chairman of the MTA, promised that the concerns will get "high-level attention" and directed officials to immediately investigate. And by afternoon, they were walking the boulevard to see firsthand the effects of closing the famed artery.

As construction crews worked to remove the temporary street surface that has covered the construction of subway tunneling and the Hollywood and Vine station, MTA's top public relations executive, Rae James, said her examination would result in some immediate improvements.

Already, half a day's work had produced a mound of broken asphalt only yards from the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars of James Stewart, Kirk Douglas and Edward R. Murrow.

The transit agency has agreed to spend up to $250,000 to compensate street-level businesses and neighborhood residents for the inconvenience of being in the "impact zone."

A dozen of 20 businesses agreed to accept payment of 70% of their rent during the 24 days that the boulevard will be completely closed. And 71 of 80 residents in the area will be paid $1,000 to $2,000 for being subjected to noise, traffic and dust while the street is rebuilt.

"These kinds of projects are not painless, but in the end they uplift the whole community," MTA Deputy Executive Officer Stephen J. Polechronis told reporters.

The compensation plan only includes street-level businesses. "We felt the most significant impact would be to retail businesses at the street level who rely on walk-in impulse customers," he said.

And that's a sore point for other businesses including casting studios, talent scouts, post-production outfits, doctors, dentists and others.

In the offices of Sound Satisfaction midway up the 12-story Taft Building at Hollywood and Vine, sound editor Jeff Boydstun was frustrated. "I understand what they are doing down there, but my God, we're doing sound editing," he said. "It's totally untenable."

He complained that the MTA had offered no compensation for the disruption.

Agency officials made no promises to expand the compensation program. They did pledge to take immediate steps to change signs off the Hollywood Freeway that suggest that more than four blocks of the boulevard are closed. City traffic officers were assigned to help detour traffic onto narrow side streets where all curbside parking was temporarily eliminated.

Beyond the simple blue banners that say all businesses are open, MTA officials said they will launch an advertising campaign to let the public know that the merchants, theaters and restaurants are still open.

At the Subway sandwich shop where customers and workers sometimes cannot hear each other over the din, manager Isidro Castillo said business was off "a little bit."

"I hope it goes much better because we need to work," he said.

Ironically, the shop's walls are covered with reproductions of historic newspaper articles and drawings heralding the opening of the New York subway.

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