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Urban Design Team Sets Out to Improve Panorama City's Image

The all-volunteer group is preparing to roll out an ambitious proposal for a new 'town center.'

September 20, 2003|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

In the decade since General Motors shuttered its automobile manufacturing plant in Panorama City, economic experts say the northeast San Fernando Valley community has struggled to regain its financial footing.

The former GM facility was converted into The Plant, a $100-million shopping center, in 1998, but economic experts say the retail center has not kept pace with such nearby shopping malls as the Northridge Fashion Center and the Glendale Galleria.

Despite mostly lower-income residents and lingering concerns about crime and blight, an urban design team has drafted a blueprint to restore Panorama City's commercial and residential fortunes.

The team's proposal, to be presented at a meeting of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley on Oct. 15, lays out an ambitious plan for a hotel, convention center, office park, senior housing, artists' lofts, retail outlets, restaurants, movie theaters and museums.

Team members envision a transit center, parks, community gardens, eclectic boutiques, ethnic grocery stores and pedestrian malls with fountains and sculptures.

The revitalized area would fan out eastward from the intersection of Roscoe and Van Nuys boulevards and encompass 280 acres, team members said. The Plant, as well as the existing Panorama Mall, would figure prominently into the "town center" design scheme.

"All the needs of the community should be met in this center," said Jerry Pollak, lead architect and team coordinator. "When people see an attractive area, they say, 'Let's go there.' "

The urban design team is an outgrowth of the Economic Alliance's Livable Communities Council, which examines ways to revitalize the Valley's commercial districts.

"Since the Valley is not going to be a separate city, we need to develop these cities within a city," said Bob Scott, a team member and real estate broker, referring to the Valley's failed effort to secede from Los Angeles last year.

The 20-member, all-volunteer team of architects, lawyers, real estate brokers, engineers, planners and community activists first convened in November 2002. The team has spent the last 10 months studying the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the community's estimated 70,000 residents. Panorama City was selected for no other reason than that one the team's architects lives there.

While the team is working independently of city, county and state agencies, members said they hoped public officials would consider the group's final plan for Panorama City as a model for future town centers in other Valley communities, including Canoga Park, Sylmar, Pacoima and Granada Hills.

"We don't believe that reports and studies should sit on a shelf to gather dust," Scott said. "We are actively pushing all of these bullet points with the appropriate officials."

Intelligent urban design would go a long way toward building community pride, Scott said, which could in turn reduce crime, increase property values and improve quality of life.

"Our commercial centers are windows on the soul of each community," he said. "They tell you who lives there and what they think of themselves."

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