By HILDY MEDINA
The Hollywood Galaxy had been widely billed as one of the centerpieces for Hollywood’s long-awaited renaissance.
But six years after its opening, nearly all of its storefronts stand empty. Just three tenants sit in what looks like a ghost town.
Now, as revitalization plans continue to be announced, the Galaxy sits as a reminder of all the things that can go wrong with a district’s economic development plans.
What went wrong with the Galaxy?
Some say timing . Upon the development’s completion in 1991, the recession was in full swing. There were several multimillion-dollar projects slated to follow, but because of the economic downturn, they were never built.
In addition, the $48 million center was built in a “U” shape providing limited visibility from the street.
But the biggest problem for the Galaxy, and for the overall revitalization of Hollywood, is getting the right kind of retailers.
“That’s been the problem all along,” said Leron Gubler, executive director at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “The bigger picture is, who’s going to be the first one to jump in?”
High-profile retailers are key for attracting locals and tourists, but few of the big chains, department stores or other anchor tenants found in major L.A. malls and tourist meccas like Universal CityWalk have been attracted to Hollywood.
Sondra Haley, a spokeswoman for Walt Disney Co.’s retail division, said that developers have recently approached the company about moving to Hollywood. Disney is waiting it out to see what happens, she said.
“If the momentum continues to build and they are able to create … a family-oriented and entertaining retail venue, we would be interested,” said Haley. The large number of tourists who flock to Hollywood Boulevard is attractive, she said, but “it would need to be the tourist who is family-friendly and interested in our product.”
But Hollywood, as it stands today, is regarded as anything but “family friendly.” A perceived high crime rate and a tattered stretch of unkempt shops have kept out retailers like the Disney Store.
“It’s very depressing to see everything that was once so great become such a dump,” said Neal Lyons, senior vice president at Vans Inc. Like Disney, Vans would open a store on Hollywood Boulevard if it had a family feel, said Lyons.
“If it was going to be a CityWalk and it was truly cleaned up, we would (open a store),” he said. Also important, Lyons said, is whether other major retailers and restaurants are attracted.
“We would not jump in without a national retailer, like a Hard Rock (Cafe) or a Planet Hollywood,” Lyons said.
But according to Hard Rock Cafe officials, there are no plans to open in Hollywood.
Planners said they have approached Niketown as a potential retailer, but like Hard Rock, it has no current plans to open a store in Hollywood.
“It’s not an option,” said Mark Sacks, Southwest marketing director for Niketown. “If there wasn’t currently a Niketown in L.A., Hollywood would be looked at.”
The area is stuck in a retail Catch-22, insiders say. Because of its neglected appearance, it desperately needs a major commercial project to attract merchants as well as locals and tourists. But developers have been unable to sign the necessary tenants to support their proposed multimillion-dollar developments.
TrizecHahn Centers has proposed building 620,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and cinemas down the street from the Galaxy at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Developers are also planning to expand Mann’s Chinese to include 4,000 new seats and 14 new screens.
“We’ve talked to all the major studios about having a marketing platform to show off their studio and encourage a presentation that doesn’t occur anywhere else,” said David Malmuth, senior vice president of development at TrizecHahn.
Malmuth said the retailers he wants to sign are those who would help recreate the spirit of old Hollywood, such as one-of-a-kind clothing outfits.
“We’re not looking at themed restaurants,” said Malmuth.
No tenants have been announced for the project.
Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, a couture vintage shop on Melrose Avenue, said that having a store on Hollywood Boulevard would “make sense logistically” because of where most of his customers live, but it’s not a practical idea.
“It’s funny, most of my customers live about half a mile from there and I love the area, but I think our clientele would be turned off to shop there,” he said. “Let a major retailer get their first.”