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Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
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Residential Boom Set to Trigger Sprucing Up of Shopping Area

By LIZBETH SCORDO

Contributing Reporter


The San Gabriel Valley city of Azusa has worked hard to clean up its industrial image and promote residential development efforts that have largely paid off.


After construction of 450 new houses, homeowners now outnumber renters, and median prices have increased at a faster pace than L.A. County as a whole.


Construction begins this spring on the redevelopment of the immense Monrovia Nursery, which will add another 1,250 moderately priced homes.

Now, city officials say, it’s time to concentrate on Azusa’s lagging retail sector.


Since a $1.9 million downtown facelift in 1998, in which lightpoles were repainted and other streetscape amenities added along Azusa Avenue, commercial redevelopment in the city has been slow. Many vacancies remain in the downtown area, there are few restaurant choices beyond fast food, and there is no large supermarket in town.


But the infusion of wealth that arrived with the new homeowners has built momentum for retail improvements.


City Manager Julie Gutierrez said Albertsons Inc. recently signed a letter of intent to occupy part of Azusa’s Foothill Shopping Center, which is being redeveloped. The City Council has also approved a downtown


redevelopment plan that will bring a Starbucks Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. store to the vacant southeast corner of Azusa Avenue and

Foothill Boulevard.


“What we’re seeing now is just the fruition of all the hard work,” Gutierrez said.


As part of the Monrovia Nursery development approved by voters in May, the city also plans a new public school, county fire station, community building, retail plaza, several parks and a potential transit stop for the Gold Line Extension, which could be built by 2010.


While Azusa is looking to other revitalized communities like Pasadena for ideas, city leaders say they’ve been careful not to overgrow. They asked for input from residents, and that has led to mixed-use buildings downtown that combine residences, retail and office tenancies.


“Residents want better commercial services but they don’t want all the traffic and craziness that may come with better commercial services,” said Lisa Brownfield, Azusa’s General Plan Manager. “So we started talking to them about some of the smart growth principles.”


An example is the rehabilitation of Azusa Avenue’s Talley Building, where the second floor and an added third floor will be used for apartments, with the ground level to be leased to retailers and a restaurant. A few doors down, a building will be demolished to make way for a dental office on the first floor and three apartments on top. The city also has started construction of a breezeway between the two.


Some business owners aren’t happy with the pace of progress.

John Moore, who opened an Azusa Avenue caf & #233;, Smart City Grinds, in 2000, complained that the planned Block 36 mixed-use project across from his store has yet to attract a developer.


The city bought some of the buildings, and Gutierrez said several developers are considering the project. In the meantime, Moore’s profits come from renting out his caf & #233; for private gatherings and hosting Christian music concerts. The new residents stay away, he said.


“We’ve seen none of them come in. The main reason is, it’s scary down here. If you drive through at night it’s all boarded up,” he said.


But Terry Bensen, owner of Lewis’ Saw and Lawn Mower on Azusa Avenue, said he believes the cosmetic fixes have already made downtown a better place to be. “With more business we’ll get more people coming through,” he said.


Azusa, originally known as Azusa Rancho de Dalton, was named after an Indian community and Henry Dalton, a British trader who bought the land in 1844. In the 1860s, the federal government took over much of Dalton’s land and opened it to homesteaders.


Dalton eventually won back 55 acres, then set up one of the first commercial honeybee operations in the country. The town of Azusa was founded in 1887 and incorporated 11 years later.


Downtown Azusa hit its peak during the 1920s. The area thrived through the mid-1950s, when several businesses moved to the new Foothill Shopping Center. During the 1970s the city began demolishing older buildings. New earthquake standards in the mid-1990s caused other property owners to sell their buildings to the city.

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