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Bank to Set Up $10-Million Loan Pool for Preservation

April 27, 1999|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a novel partnership between preservationists and a financial institution, Tokai Bank of California is expected to announce today that it will make available $10 million in loans to help revitalize Los Angeles' historic core.

Tokai's financial commitment is part of an effort by the Los Angeles Conservancy--the region's largest preservationist group--to work more closely with investors and developers to protect and restore historic districts and structures. The conservancy is lobbying other lenders to follow Tokai's lead in helping finance restoration of eastern downtown, home to a large number of historic structures,

"This financing pool is crucial to the economic success of downtown's historic buildings," said Linda Dishman, executive director of the conservancy, in a statement. "All too often, proposed revitalization projects in historic buildings have faced difficulties in obtaining financing, since many lenders have traditionally shied away from projects in the city's urban core."

The conservancy has sought the financial commitments as part of its "Broadway Initiative," a comprehensive plan the group is developing to bring new life into an area that is home to about a dozen grand historic theaters.

Teaming up with Tokai represents a shift in the conservancy's approach to preservation, which has often found it responding to threats to individual historic structures, said Kenneth Bernstein, the group's director of preservation issues. Instead, the group is now "taking a proactive role in facilitating positive economic activity to rejuvenate historic districts," Bernstein said.

According to the deal between Tokai and the conservancy, the bank's $10 million in loans will be available for retail and residential development in the area bounded by Third Street on the north, Ninth Street on the south, Hill Street on the west and Main Street on the east. The area includes the Spring Street Financial District and the Broadway Historic Theater District--two of the three Los Angeles commercial areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Most of the major preservation projects in the area have been financed primarily with public money. Many banks and private investors have avoided the area, given the high risk and complicated nature of historic renovation projects, said preservationists.

Preservationists and some downtown developers have also been buoyed by the City Council's recent approval of an ordinance that will make it easier and more lucrative to convert empty older office buildings into loft-style apartment complexes.

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