Spotlight on Downtown Glendale

City Core Getting New Look As Retail Project Flourishes

By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Staff Reporter

When it comes to shopping, restaurants and nightlife, downtown Glendale is no Old Town Pasadena or Third Street Promenade, and it's a pretty good bet it won't ever be.

But after years of persistent redevelopment despite setbacks, Brand Boulevard is moving out of the shadows of Glendale's signature high rise office buildings and the popular Galleria.

For years, the city has had a bustling downtown but only on weekdays between 9 to 5. But with the opening of the Glendale Marketplace in the downtown's southern regions, there are crowds of people out after sunset, particularly on weekends.

"It was so dead there were hardly any lights," remembers Mike Sarkisyan, 23, who operates a candy cart at the Marketplace, which features Tower Records, a variety of restaurants and a multiplex cinema. "There have been a lot of changes."

And if city officials have their way, there will be at least a few more. Earlier this year, the city chose high-profile developer Rick Caruso to build its long-planned Town Center, a mixed-use project that could well turn out to be the downtown's missing link.

Housing units included

The project is intended to redevelop 13 acres of shops, parking lots and other under-utilized property between the Glendale Galleria and Marketplace, with upscale retail and up to 500 multifamily housing units as well as a city park and public plaza.

In itself, the massive project should attract shoppers and further enliven the downtown. But more importantly, the center is seen as the critical connection between the Galleria and the rest of downtown.

"It could really energize the retail in the area," said Alex Hamilton, a senior project manager with the Glendale Redevelopment Agency.

When the Galleria was developed in the 1970s by the city's redevelopment agency, enclosed malls were in their heyday. The Galleria has been a huge success, attracting over 50,000 shoppers each day. But while shoppers will drive from miles away to visit the mall, they would never think of going beyond its environs. As a result, the mall thrived, while Brand stores wilted.

City redevelopment officials tried to rectify the problem in the late 1980s by redeveloping a dilapidated stretch of Maryland Avenue, a block east of Brand and a stone's throw from the mall.

The idea, which developed into a shopping area called The Exchange, was to attract mall shoppers who would then visit other shops along Brand. The block featured an expensive brick street, gorgeous palms and upscale boutiques. But it fizzled. Tenants came and went, while those that remained for the most part struggled.

"The Exchange by itself was not enough," said Douglas Brown, managing partner of Regent Properties, the Beverly Hills development company that built the Marketplace. "It did not have enough anchor tenants to pull people to downtown Glendale."

Theater redevelopment

In the middle of the early 90s recession, the city scrambled, and spent over $6 million to transform the Alex Theater, an aging, 1920's era art deco movie palace into a live theater. The theater nearly closed in 1994 during its first year of operation and now requires an annual $400,000 city subsidy. But it has attracted new visitors to downtown and restaurants have sprung up around it.

Still, it wasn't until the Marketplace opened three years ago in place of a depressed stretch of Brand that the downtown began to see regular evening crowds, even if they don't approximate Pasadena's or Santa Monica's.

"There has been a lot of steady growth, but it could be better," said Harry Hall, owner of Milano's Italian Kitchen, a mid-priced Brand Boulevard eatery that remains busier at lunch than dinner.

The question is whether Glendale can pull off its Town Center, especially in the face of a new recession. Caruso and the city have yet to sign a final agreement, including the terms of any public subsidy.

Donahue Schriber, developer of the Galleria, was the original developer, but pulled out when Mann Theaters filed for bankruptcy protection and Wyndham International Inc. decided not to develop a hotel at the site. The new proposal calls for neither.

"If they do this right, it should be the final piece to bring it all together," said Bill Boyd, a commercial real estate broker with Grubb & Ellis Co. who has long worked the Tri-Cities market.

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