By DANIEL TAUB
When Michael Pfeiffer drives south on Figueroa Street with the Santa Monica Freeway in his rearview mirror, he sees an area that has a lot of problems but he also sees an area with possibility.
A new sports arena for the L.A. Lakers and the L.A. Kings is proposed for the area just north of the Figueroa Corridor. The California Museum of Science and Industry at the corridor’s south end is undergoing more than $200 million in renovations. City officials are still trying to get a National Football League team into the nearby Memorial Coliseum.
Pfeiffer, executive administrator of the Central City South Association of Commerce and Industry, sees the improvements being made by the public sector and believes it’s the ideal time for area businesses to make a similar commitment.
“People want to make a change, want to reinvest, are reinvesting and want to improve the image,” Pfeiffer said.
The image problems include a perceived high crime rate, lingering memories of the 1992 riots, excessive graffiti and a lack of places for University of Southern California students to gather in the evening and on weekends.
Central City South is also one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A., and its businesses including dealers in Figueroa Street’s auto row, such as Felix Chevrolet and Felix Cadillac were hit particularly hard by the recession of the early ’90s.
“About two years ago it was so bad we considered closing them down,” said Darryl Holter, chief administrative officer of The Shammas Group, which owns both Felix dealerships.
But with the economy slowly improving, and with public improvements being made, community and business leaders are eager to bring the benefits of both to Figueroa Street and all of Central City South.
“We could sit and wait for these things to happen, but it could take much longer,” Holter said.
In order to speed up the process, Holter, Pfeiffer and others are pushing for a business improvement district for the Figueroa Corridor and are closely involved with a Community Redevelopment Agency study of the corridor.
Ballots to vote on the BID are going out to property owners this week and are expected to be returned within a month. The proposed BID is roughly bordered by Flower Street to the east, Martin Luther King Boulevard to the south, Figueroa Street to the west and the Santa Monica Freeway to the north.
If the proposal is approved, property owners within the 40 blocks of the BID would pay between $4.15 and $15.83 per linear foot of street frontage during the first year.
The BID money would be used to establish:
– security programs, including a patrol that would work with the Los Angeles Police Department and USC security;
– maintenance programs to remove graffiti, clean sidewalks and remove litter;
– marketing, communication and economic development programs to create a positive image for the area and attract new investors and customers to the corridor; and
– planning and streetscape improvement programs to develop an improved look for the corridor.
Business leaders also hope that a CRA study, which is expected to take about six months to complete, will dovetail with the BID plan.
The CRA study will encompass a wider area of the Figueroa Corridor. It roughly includes a block to the west of Figueroa Street and a block to the east of Figueroa, and it will have a northern border of Fifth Street and a southern border of Vernon Street.
It will also take into account the corridor’s “area of influence,” said Michael Haack, senior planner with the CRA.
The first meeting of an ad hoc committee on the CRA study is scheduled for this week.
Pfeiffer said the Central City South Association is also looking into ways of keeping a revitalization zone in place after it sunsets at the end of 1998. The city and state offer tax credits to businesses that bring employment into the zone.
The association is also looking into expanding an enterprise zone in the area. That zone, which also offers credits to expanding businesses in the area, will sunset in 2001.
“Now that the economy’s starting to come back, these things are starting to sunset,” Pfeiffer said. “So we’ve got to get them renewed.”
Business owners in the area are hopeful that the BID, the CRA study and other plans for Central City South’s rebirth will help convince investors and area residents that the neighborhood is a good place to do business.
“Somebody’s going to have to be the catalyst whether it be ‘SC or somebody but the area has a lot of potential,” said Alan Faiola, president of Zabin Industries Inc., a zipper, thread and button distributor that has its headquarters in Central City South.
Faiola is hopeful that the neighborhood’s many small businesses through the BID and other efforts will drive Central City South’s rebirth.
“There’s a lot of small guys that have been in the area a long time and can’t afford to move,” Faiola said. “They have been forced to help, and that’s good for us.”