Business District Faces More Changes With Airport Plan

Airport adjacent: LAX has been a major influence on businesses in area.

Staff Reporter

It's been an up and down existence for business owners along Sepulveda Boulevard just south of Manchester Boulevard and north of Los Angeles International Airport.

The initial growth of LAX lured major retailers in the 1950s. But two decades later the opening of Fox Hills Mall, two miles north, plus an airport expansion that eliminated many homes in the area, resulted in a shrinking customer base.

Today, the submarket has rebounded somewhat with the addition of major retailers, including Petco and Mervyn's. But business owners now fear that a further expansion of the airport will be another blow to the Westchester Business District.

"It concerns me a lot," said Nona George Cohen, president of Body Clinic Inc., a skin and body care shop on Sepulveda between 89th Street and La Tijera Boulevard, across from a Ralphs. "I've been in this location for 16 years, and I've seen the airport go through a lot of changes. I'm not sure how it's going to impact me."

Differing views

The expansion plan, being pushed by L.A. Mayor James Hahn, calls for the relocation of two runways and shifting passenger check-in to a site about a mile east of the airport.

Some Westchester business leaders favor Hahn's $8 billion proposal because it won't eliminate businesses. Others, however, are concerned about the plan's effects on traffic.

What's also troubling, some argue, is that the expansion proposal comes as the area's longtime city council representative, Ruth Galanter, has been redistricted out, leaving the community with a new, unfamiliar voice in council. Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski, who now represents the 11th council district, will replace Galanter July 1.

"Business people in the community as a whole would have preferred to keep Galanter for another year," said Geoff Maleman, president of the Westchester/LAX-Marina del Rey Chamber of Commerce. "She represented the area well for 15 years, so change is always difficult."

Galanter spearheaded the creation of the Sepulveda Boulevard Task Force to redesign a Metropolitan Transportation Authority-funded proposal to expand Sepulveda Boulevard.

The revised plan, drafted within the last few months, attempts to retain some of the small-town feel residents prefer. It calls for narrowing the wide sidewalks along Sepulveda Boulevard to create a permanent parking lane, while opening the current temporary parking lane into a through lane.

The revised plan, which was approved by the L.A. City Council this month, still has to be approved by the MTA.

Miscikowski tried to allay concerns about her stance on the project, saying, "I will continue to work with the Task Force, there's no reason to change. I would also put forward to the MTA that this is a viable plan because it accommodates some transit traffic needs but acknowledges it's taking place in a viable business community."

History of change

The Westchester Business District got started in the 1940s, when LAX was still known as Mines Field. After the exodus of the '70s, national retail tenants didn't return to the area until H.B. Drollinger Co. developed a retail complex four years ago with three storefronts and Ralphs as the anchor tenant. "That store has been quite successful for us, quite a bit more than when we first opened it," said Terry O'Neil, a spokesman for Ralphs.

Developed in the style of a Spanish square, the complex has since attracted retail chains such as Pizza Hut.

The district has become the main shopping area for thousands of employees at LAX. In the days following Sept. 11, when the airport shut down, revenues at area businesses fell, said David Herbst, a Westchester resident and former president of the Westchester/LAX-Marina del Rey Chamber of Commerce.

More developments are on the horizon. Howard Drollinger, president of H.B. Drollinger Co., which leases and manages half the properties in the business district, says he is renovating the former Westchester Faire Antique Mall and negotiating with two major retail chains to occupy the 300,000-square-foot, two-floor building.

A former J.C. Penney building, after sitting vacant for eight years, is being renovated for use by a 60,000-square-foot T.J. Maxx.

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