By JOHN BRINSLEY
The long-awaited Red Line extension is about to arrive along Hollywood Boulevard amid a rush of development designed in part to capitalize on passengers expected to use the two new boulevard stations every day.
But it's a much different story along Vermont Avenue, where three new stations will open on June 12 as part of the 4.6-mile extension.
There, the coming of the Red Line has sparked little new development and is expected to serve more of a blue-collar role in carrying passengers to destinations like Children's Hospital, Kaiser Permanente Foundation Hospital and Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
"Vermont is more of a medical service area, with Children's Hospital and Kaiser Permanente," said Ira Smedra, whose Arba Group is constructing a $29 million mixed-use project at the Hollywood and Western station. "There's not a lot of development activity on Vermont that I'm aware of."
The new subway winds its way up Vermont from the existing Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont station, with stops at Beverly, Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards, before heading west to Hollywood and Western and ending at Vine Street.
Ground was broken for the project five years ago and the construction costs were $1.74 billion, which includes the two-station Wilshire extension opened in 1996.
The muted response along Vermont contrasts with the enthusiasm in Hollywood.
"This is going to have a very positive impact," said Leron Gubler, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "We think there will be a lot of interaction from people moving back and forth from downtown. The smaller stores along the boulevard have suffered the most with the subway's construction, but now with it opening, there's a lot of excitement being generated."
Two blocks from the Hollywood and Vine station is Regent Properties' $50 million Hollywood Marketplace at Sunset and Vine. In addition, the Community Redevelopment Agency is planning a 61-unit affordable housing project, with a possible retail component, on the southeast side of the Hollywood and Western station.
Overall, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says that development of office, commercial and entertainment projects now totals more than $1 billion along the entire Red Line route, from downtown L.A. to its projected end in North Hollywood. The largest project is TrizecHahn Corp.'s $385 million development at Hollywood and Highland Avenue.
"The subway is located within well-traveled corridors and places where redevelopment projects can be encouraged," said James de la Loza, MTA executive officer for regional transportation planning and development.
While many passengers might ride the subway to work along Vermont, few are expected to stop and shop.
Instead of revival, merchants talk about the need for safety for their customers, and worry less about development than the preservation of existing businesses.
"We'll just have to wait and see," said the manager of a hotel along Vermont who didn't want to give his name. "The subway will be good if there is more traffic, but it also depends on the kind of traffic, because of security. This area was pretty bad a couple of years ago. But the MTA came in and briefed us and there are more cops patrolling the area."
The MTA projects that daily passenger traffic on the Red Line will double from its current 35,000 to 70,000 people a day when the five new stations open.
Daily ridership is expected to increase again to 115,000 when the next three stations open next year at Hollywood and Highland, Universal Studios and North Hollywood.
The opening of the Universal Studios stop is expected to have a major impact, allowing tourists to start downtown and make their way through Hollywood to the theme park.
"I think we're going to see a lot of interaction from people moving back and forth from Universal City as well as downtown, with the Staples Center opening up (later in the year)," said Gubler of the Hollywood Chamber. "A lot of our stores don't do advertising, so they rely on pedestrian traffic."
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