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VALLEY BUSINESS | A BID FOR CHANGE

NoHo Merchants Expected to Say Yes to Rebuilding

Subway: Lankershim Boulevard property owners hurt by MTA work are likely to capitalize on $2 million in city funds by supporting beautification effort.

March 28, 2000|KATHLEEN O'STEEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — After suffering through four years of Red Line subway construction here, merchants along the Lankershim Boulevard corridor now have a chance to help rebuild their business district.

The Los Angeles City Council last month set aside $2 million from Proposition A and C transit tax funds to help merchants and residents create a Business Improvement District along Lankershim from Burbank Boulevard to Riverside Drive, including some cross streets.

A majority of property owners in the district must still agree to assess themselves an annual fee to fund the district before the plan goes back to the City Council for final approval. But with the $2 million from the city, local leaders are predicting widespread support.

"I think for those merchants who put up with the hardship of years of construction . . . they will now begin to realize a very high potential," said Ken Banks, director of the North Hollywood Community Forum, an association of merchants and residents.

BIDs have been rejected or scaled back in some communities because of property owners who did not want to pay assessments that can cost thousands of dollars a year.

"But we anticipate that the assessments in North Hollywood will be 80% to 90% less than current assessments in other business improvement districts because of the $2 million they already have," said Tom Henry, an aide to City Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents part of the area.

Under a proposed formula, Banks said, about $1.2 million would have to be used for mitigation for those merchants hurt by the MTA construction.

"For instance, we can't write a check to cover somebody's rent," Banks said. "But if they decide to do signage improvements, that would be allowed. The monies have to be used on the businesses."

Among the many items that Banks and others said could be covered include street and parking improvements, advertising, landscaping, physical improvements to buildings and the addition of park benches.

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The remainder will be used to contract a BID study, and for overall promotion of the district.

"If five business owners say they want their facades respackled, that could be submitted to the BID governing committee and if they approve it, then it will happen," Henry said.

Banks said he hopes the BID money could be distributed by November. The biggest challenge so far, he said, has been getting to this point.

"It's been a year and a half of negotiations," he said. "We understood that there had to be the involvement of several city departments, but it's been taxing."

There's also the disappointment on the part of some merchants who wanted the $2 million distributed as cash to the affected business owners, instead of being used to jump-start a BID.

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"Originally we wanted cash, but the city said no way," said Guy Weddington McCreary, whose family has owned property in the area for 115 years and has been a major developer of the area. "And everyone had taken a real beating due to the MTA construction."

The compromise--allotting funds that can only be put back into the businesses--was something that finally everyone could agree on.

"I think the biggest obstacle was that this was something the city's never done before," McCreary said of the decision to contribute money directly to a BID. "But I know it will be set up responsibly and governed by people who have the most to gain or lose."

Thomas Kutrosky, an optometrist who has owned his own business on Lankershim for 35 years, estimates he lost nearly 50% of his clientele from 1994, right after the earthquake, through 1998. "Basically people couldn't get to me," he said. "The street was closed down many, many weekends and people assumed I must be closed. And then when they did come in, there was no parking because the MTA contractor had leased the city parking lot."

Kutrosky would like to see the funds used to advertise businesses along the boulevard and to fix up the buildings. "I own the building and it would not have been financially feasible for me to move," he said. "But I think a beautification of the area would be good."

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Bob Caine, president of the board of the El Portal Theater, a complex housing three theaters including a 360-seat venue, a 92-seat house and a 44-seat small stage, also thinks monies should go into advertising--ideally locating banners promoting the NoHo theater district along Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards.

"It would be nice to use the money to create an ambience so that people want to be here," he said.

About $6 million has been spent to rebuild the El Portal, which was two weeks from opening when the earthquake hit in 1994 and the inside collapsed.

The company managed to open its 44-seat space in 1995, but MTA construction hampered attendance, Caine says. The other two stages opened this past January and, during the first six weeks of business, Caine says 10,000 people came to the theaters.

"Getting established and having some acceptance from the community is now our challenge," he said.

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