Most Angelenos probably never think of taking a stroll or having lunch along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport.

But many businesses along the boulevard hope a recent move to add financial muscle to their 4-year-old business improvement district will change that by attracting more retail and restaurants to the area.

In the process, they hope the busy street marked by hotels, nude clubs and the roar of airport traffic will ride the coattails of $112 million in LAX improvements to a more-vibrant reputation.

"We want it to be a favorable environment for people to walk between hotels," said Gregory Lehman, general manager of the Renaissance Los Angeles Hotel, a member of the BID. "We're really trying to change the demographics for our market. We're trying to make it a destination unto itself. Right now it's in many ways viewed as a thoroughfare."

Until last month, the so-called Gateway to L.A. property-based BID, or P-BID, has had the smallest budget among the city's growing number of P-BIDs. But the City Council voted last month to allow the Century Boulevard improvement district to increase its total assessments to $690,000 a year up from $175,000 since it was created with the approval of a majority of area property owners in 1997.

With $84,000 of the original budget going to the salary of executive director Merry Norris, the BID has basically been limited to lobbying Los Angeles World Airport to get as much of LAX's recent facelift as possible to spill out onto Century Boulevard.

Probably the highest-profile component of Los Angeles World Airport's $112 million Gateway LAX project has been the lighted pillars that change colors. But $28.5 million of the project's budget is going into installing palm trees along Century Boulevard, from the airport to Aviation Boulevard.

Now, officials with the BID are focused on further improving the area's aesthetics.

Giant gorilla

The district is home to more than a dozen major hotels, with a combined total of 6,500 rooms. There is also 4 million square feet of office space. Despite the flow of people to and from the area, it has drawn little interest from retailers and restaurants. Norris says the location adjacent to LAX makes the business-development challenges unique among city BIDs.

"None of them have the giant gorilla at the end of their street," Norris said. "This is not about clean and sweep."

The Century Boulevard BID is now in the initial stages of deciding how to spend its heftier budget, but the goal is to get people out on the streets.

A full $300,000 of the $690,000 budget, which kicks in Jan. 1, is earmarked to create a stronger sense of security by hiring so-called ambassadors security people, basically who will be visible along Century Boulevard.

Much of the remaining efforts will initially be focused on luring developers and retailers to Century Boulevard.

Hoteliers hope the BID's efforts will help them draw a wider range of guests than those who now tend to stay just a night or two, said Lehman of the Renaissance Los Angeles Hotel.

Lehman admits it will be tough. "The biggest challenge is the perception (of the area). It's not easy, that's true," he said.

Owners of office space also hope to see results.

David Nagel, president of Decron Corp., said his firm recently bought the property at 5757 Century Blvd., a set of sister buildings of four and eight stories, respectively. Together the buildings have 500,000 square feet of office space, with 150,000 square feet of that sitting empty.

The overall office vacancy rate in the area stood at 26.0 percent as of the end of the second quarter, according to Grubb & Ellis Co., improved from the 29.2 percent rate a year earlier.

Turnaround attempt

Decron plans to remodel its two buildings, now called Airport Spectrum, and reposition them as class-A properties. Nagel supported the increased assessment for the BID because any new retail tenants would help him offer more amenities to his tenants, who now frequently drive to other areas to have lunch.

"They're trying to turn Century Boulevard around, similar to the way (Manhattan Beach's) Rosecrans Boulevard got turned around over the last 10 years," Nagel said.

As other models for success, Nagel points to J.H. Snyder Co.'s Howard Hughes Center in Westchester to the north and the strong South Bay office markets, where building owners have historically gotten relatively high rents.

"It's basically the same market (as Century Boulevard)," Nagel said. "But I think there's a bad connotation here. The purpose of the BID is to change all that."

Bringing more vacationers to LAX-adjacent hotels and getting office workers to walk along Century Boulevard for lunch isn't such a huge leap, said Erik Dahlerbruch, director of sales and marketing for the 1,235-room Hilton Los Angeles Airport, where the majority of guests are travelers passing through LAX.

"It's not the same destination as, say, Westwood," Dahlerbruch said. "People need to feel comfortable walking from their office building to a restaurant or a hotel. I think we're trying to break down some of the negative image of what an airport area is and show people the value, whether it be excellent hotel rates or excellent lease rates."

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