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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Emphasis Shifts, Building Rules Change in Financial Core

Glendale is one of the few Valley cities that border Los Angeles. But existing in the shadow of that city hasn’t stopped Glendale from emerging as a regional financial center, complete with a skyline that rivals that of downtown Los Angeles. Though the Jewel City lost its flagship bank Glendale Federal when it merged with California Federal in 1998, Glendale is still home to a number of financial institutions with regional offices there. There’s also Americas United Bank, the first financial institution to bill itself as a “Hispanic bank.” “Interestingly enough, Americas United Bank is the only bank that’s actually headquartered in Glendale,” President and CEO Gilbert Dalmau said. “We opened our doors in November 2006. We chose Glendale because it’s so centrally located to be able to service the market we were after, which is pretty much the greater L.A. area.” Dalmau especially likes that Interstate 5 runs through the city. That provides Americas with easy access to other cities in the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and North Los Angeles. The city is also in close proximity to the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles, Dalmau noted. While Bank of America isn’t headquartered in Glendale, it is one of the city’s largest employers. World Financial Group, Fidelity Financial and Morgan Stanley employ hundreds of people altogether in the city as well. To boot, a number of real estate credit and insurance agencies and brokerages have offices in Glendale, including Countrywide, International Mortgage Company, Cigna and Arthur J. Gallagher. “Banks and financial institutions have been replaced by insurance companies and title companies that are still in that financial sector,” noted Philip Lanzafame, Glendale’s Director of Development Services, about the city’s burgeoning insurance sector. Dan Blake, director of the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University, Northridge, said that Glendale is one of a handful of industry centers in the area. “If you look at the Valley centers Van Nuys has some government buildings. Then you look at the media centers in Universal City and Studio City. The media streams into Burbank, and Glendale is the other one. Those are the focal points of the Valley in terms of office and commercial activity,” he said. While Glendale is undeniably a hub of commercial activity, it has taken somewhat of a hit by the mergers between banks that have occurred over the past decade. “There’s about a 14 percent vacancy rate in the office market,” Ken Hitts, the city’s economic development manager, said. “We’re trying to attract more technology and entertainment as well as banking, financial and insurance companies.” And the city has the workforce to support more companies. With a population of 207,000, nearly half 80,000 are among the working. Employees of new companies may not end up working in a high rise, though. That’s because, in November 2006, the city made plans to place a moratorium of sorts on high-rise buildings. “The specific plan we wanted to outline for our skyline has evolved over time, and we certainly took into consideration some parameters on height to shape the vision of the city, the community,” Lanzafame explained. Now, buildings downtown may be anywhere from 10 or 12 stories but no more than 25 stories. While heights on buildings have been capped, so to speak, structures in other areas have been afforded more density. Now, houses can be as high as three stories in some places. And, in some districts, buildings that weren’t allowed to be more than a few stories can now go up to four and six stories. Efficiency, Safety Lanzafame said that, when capping the height on buildings downtown, the city took into consideration how it could efficiently and safely move people through without widening streets. “Good redevelopment starts with good planning,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we plan in the context of the whole community to ensure that it’s a long-term success. That’s where we think defining the skyline, setting the envelope, and how we want that to take place, was a really important exercise.” Glendale first began to group high-rises together in the 1980s, when there was great demand for office space. North Brand Boulevard became the locus of high rises in the area because of its proximity to the freeway, Lanzafame said. The new restrictions on height don’t mean the era of high rises is coming to an end, however. Because the city’s current zoning codes are incentive-based, the city is willing to negotiate with companies that seek more density if they contribute to the city by incorporating perks such as more public open space, according to Lanzafame. “If you’re going to provide a benefit for us, we’ll provide a benefit to you,” he said. Skyline of Note The Glendale skyline is of particular interest to Paulette Singley, a Woodbury University School of Architecture professor. When she commutes from Burbank-based Woodbury to her home in Altadena, the Glendale skyline is a highlight. “I think it’s fascinating that, if we took the various concentrations of tall buildings spread out throughout the city, we would have a Manhattan,” she said. “You really start to understand the important political geography of the L.A. area. You can see that we have all of these different constituencies in L.A. County. In order to get any kind of urban design or planning done on a large scale, you’d have to go through all of these large cities to achieve something that’s bigger than the sum of the parts.” That Glendale will never have a skyline that matches Chicago’s isn’t a disappointment for Singley. She isn’t displeased that the city has placed a cap on the heights of its high rises because such buildings have sustainability issues, she said. While, on one level, they provide density, on another, they consume an extraordinary amount of energy. “Twenty stories is a tall building,” she said. “Also, it’s not about height, it’s about proportional height. It’s about the kind of visual clustering that it makes that becomes interesting. Glendale is sitting right near the freeway and the mountains. It’s very dramatic and very spectacular.”

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