A tentative proposal to turn the North Hollywood Robinsons-May department store into a high school has raised concerns among some area business leaders, who fear the plan may scuttle efforts to revitalize the flagging retail corridor.
The Los Angeles Board of Education's facilities committee is expected to recommend today that the full board begin a feasibility study of the nearly 25-acre site near Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street.
School board member Caprice Young on Wednesday described the site, which houses the store and the regional office of the St. Louis-based chain, as the preferred location for a new high school for the region.
Larry Applebaum, president of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, expressed concerns about the potential loss of well-paying jobs if the retailer relocates its regional office.
He said the full chamber board is expected to take up the matter Sept. 21. In the meantime, Arthur Sweet, a chamber board member who has been trying to market the Robinsons-May and nearby Valley Plaza as a "Twin Plaza" retail district, said he plans to mount a petition campaign to try to halt the move.
"My concern is that they're taking a viable economic entity, that's one of the largest employers in the area . . . they're taking it from a taxpaying entity to a tax user," Sweet said.
"There are alternate sites. Any alternative but one that's going to cripple our area makes sense to me," he said.
Young stressed that planning for the site is still in the early stages. She was not even certain that the district had found the appropriate official with Robinsons-May to discuss the matter.
She said she's received about a dozen calls, mostly from residents, in support of the plan, but said much more community input would be solicited during the feasibility study. The study would also involve an environmental review and attempt to assess the true cost of acquiring the site.
The site could prove to be expensive, since Robinsons-May put a substantial amount of money into refurbishing the store after the Northridge earthquake, a temblor that effectively destroyed the rest of the Laurel Plaza shopping center.
The North Hollywood site moved into front-runner status after the initial preferred site, an old industrial facility at Strathern Street and Tujunga Avenue, failed to pass environmental muster.
The district is hoping to find a 15- to 20-acre site, north of Burbank Boulevard and east of the Hollywood (170) Freeway.
"If there are community members that are against this site, they may have some other ideas for us," Young said.