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VALLEY BUSINESS | A BID FOR CHANGE

Thoroughfare at Last Getting a Fresh Look

Face lift: Merchants in Ventura Boulevard districts maintain street improvements will benefit businesses. Fourth enclave in Encino planned.

March 28, 2000|LEE CONDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After years of planning, organizers of Business Improvement Districts along Ventura Boulevard say the massive commercial strip is finally getting a face-lift.

In Tarzana, sculptures of elephants, tigers and other animals are slated to pop up on street lights--part of a jungle theme keyed to the community's heritage as the home of "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In Studio City, merchants are eagerly awaiting the arrival of 50 new trash cans, which will be emptied twice a week. The improvement district will also provide security and maintenance at a long-awaited public parking structure to be constructed later this year.

In Sherman Oaks, plans call for an aggressive marketing campaign, creating more parking, cleaning sidewalks and planting trees.

All three Business Improvement Districts, known as BIDs, were approved within the past two years by the Los Angeles City Council.

A fourth Ventura Boulevard BID, in Encino, will be presented for council approval in June. A proposed BID in Woodland Hills failed to get the support of more than 50% of property owners and was dropped last year.

Today, all three active Ventura Boulevard BIDs are fully funded by property taxes, and business leaders are ready to start spending the money.

Art Ginsburg, owner of Art's Delicatessen in Studio City, said he was happy to pay the extra $2,000 added to his tax bill in December to pay for his share of the BID.

The first-year budget for the Studio City BID is $287,000, with more than $100,000 dedicated to parking-related improvements, including security and maintenance.

Ginsburg said a BID is the only way for property owners to have a say in how the city provides services to a commercial area.

"In Studio City we have palm trees, which need to be trimmed once a year," he said. "The city will trim trees only once every seven years.

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"A BID is one of the best things you can do. You're getting the trees trimmed and the trash picked up. I look at it as a mall fee or a condo fee. If we were in a mall, we'd have to pay a fee to the mall."

But shouldn't the city of Los Angeles be taking care of all those things anyhow?

"It ain't gonna happen," said Ginsburg, who opened his deli in 1957. "There's too many other things for the city to do."

Business leaders in all the BIDs say they are convinced the improvements will make a difference. While most have hired at least part-time consultants, it is volunteer business leaders who do most of the work for BIDs.

Since the communities have just started spending money on their districts, they say they have yet to find out whether the improvements are going to translate into increased foot traffic.

J. Richard Leyner, a commercial real estate broker and chairman of the proposed BID in Encino, is confident the district is the best way to provide an aggressive marketing push for that stretch of Ventura Boulevard. He believes BIDs can be used to persuade San Fernando Valley residents to spend their money locally.

"It gets more and more difficult every day to drive over the hill to Brentwood and Beverly Hills," Leyner said. "We want to show people who live here what a nice area this is and how nice we are. We need people who live in the area to shop in the area."

In Studio City, the key will be parking. Robert Kayyem, president of the Studio City BID, said the most important thing local leaders have done in recent years is band together to push the city to build a new public parking structure. It was easier to organize that effort because business leaders were already getting together to plan the BID, Kayyem said.

"You couldn't build another square foot because there wasn't any parking," Kayyem said. The new parking structure is set to be built later this year. While the city is paying for it, the BID will contribute money for security, maintenance and supervision of the garage.

The business leaders are also using BID money to make money. In Studio City, the marketing campaign involves two local schools, Carpenter Avenue Elementary and Walter Reed Middle. The schools, combined, can earn "cash rewards" of as much as $20,000 if students turn in receipts from Ventura Boulevard businesses. The idea is to provide an incentive for local residents to shop on the boulevard.

The Ventura Boulevard districts are all in different stages. The Sherman Oaks members were billed in December, but have not yet started spending the money, said Sondra Frohlich, executive director of the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce. The BID can't spend money until it elects officers, a procedure that Frohlich said will be completed next month. Soon after, the group will pay for marketing and a parking strategy, she said.

In Tarzana, the BID has already done extensive tree planting and built what BID member Lillian Wall calls "pocket parks." Each pocket park has a brick walkway, a place to sit and a new tree. The BID has also hired a private security patrol.

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