Spotlight/LK1st/dt2nd Burbank Year Founded: 1911 Origins: Began as a Spanish land grant to Jose Maria Verdugo in 1798, as a reward for his military service. In 1857, his heirs sold it to Jonathan Scott, an L.A. attorney and the first American to own land in California. A decade later, David Burbank, a dentist, bought 4,000 acres from Scott and combined it with 4,600 acres of Rancho La Providencia and turned it into a successful sheep ranch. Business Profile: Burbank’s Downtown Village includes retail outlets, such as clothing and furniture stores, restaurants and movie theaters. By JEANNETTE DeSANTIS Contributing Reporter Long known as the movie capital of the world with a burgeoning media district and two major movie studios, Burbank is attempting to bring similar panache to its struggling downtown retail district. The area, known as Downtown Village, has been dogged by a series of chain-store closures, which led to a retail vacancy rate of 18 percent, according to CB Richard Ellis Inc. But now, officials are hoping that a flurry of new developments will revitalize the downtown area, by attracting trendy retailers like Crate & Barrel, Old Navy and Linens ‘n’ Things. “Right now things are slow,” said Burbank City Manager Robert “Bud” Ovrom. “We have lost some big businesses because of broader economic factors. But the area still has a zest for life.” Four years ago, J.J. Newberry’s closed its 15,000-square-foot department store. This year, two chain stores in the area, Inca Computers and Super Crown Books, also shut their doors. “It has been stagnant for awhile,” said Cynthia Wagner, who heads the Downtown Burbank Stakeholders Association, a business improvement district established five years ago. “But we are excited with the change the new developments will bring to the area.” Those projects include the $67 million AMC project, which will contain 100,000 square feet of retail space on Palm Avenue; a $60 million office-retail project on the site of the city’s former police and fire stations; and a $40 million retail-senior housing development under construction with 200,000 square feet of retail space across the street from the Media City Center mall. “In two or three years, when these new buildings open, we will be doing great. But until then, who knows,” said Ovrom. “I am concerned with the short term, of what will happen in the next couple of years.” In fact, Ovrom was so concerned that earlier this month he proposed that the city study whether to reinstate financial incentives such as sales- and property-tax rebates for merchants in the area. Officials opted to wait on any such study. Wagner said it is too soon to turn to such drastic measures in a city that still has a thriving entertainment industry. “We would like to wait and see what happens with these new developments,” Wagner said. “None of the businesses that closed were from a direct result of being in the village.” The city offered similar rebates to attract retail businesses in the late 1980s, when the area was known as the Golden Mall incentives that helped transform a virtual ghost town into a bustling retail area. About that same time, the city also began waiving parking requirements for new businesses, allowing them to move to the area without adding parking. Instead, the city built parking structures. The city still does not require most businesses to provide their own parking spaces, which has led to overcrowding in city-run parking structures in the area, said Burbank City Councilman Ted McConkey. “Parking is really tight down here,” McConkey said. “The city is continuing to ignore the area’s parking needs.” McConkey cautioned that Burbank Village eventually could end up with the same problems faced by Westwood Village, which has been plagued by empty streets and storefronts because of scarce parking. “People will go where there is more convenient parking,” he said. Some of the new developments will build parking structures and lots, but that will not make up for the public parking lots they are consuming with their developments, McConkey said. Nonetheless, the city is still counting on its downtown developments to lure the kind of high-end retail establishments they need for revitalization. Directly across the street from Burbank City Hall, the city will pay to have the old police and fire stations razed at an estimated cost of $1 million, a major undertaking considering that both were built to withstand a great deal of punishment. “Those were built in the 1950s when we thought the Russians would be dropping bombs on us,” said McConkey, adding that the facilities have thick concrete walls and large, deep basements. Once demolished, Regent Properties will build an office-retail development that is expected to be completed in early 2000. The developer has not yet signed a deal with the city, but has proposed a 1,200-seat theater, a 200-room hotel and more than 200,000 square feet of retail and office space. Tenants currently at the location, including small book and liquor stores, will be relocated to other parts of the village. Near the Media City Center, Glendale-based Gangi Builders is building a retail-senior housing development that will have 150 senior housing units along with establishments such as Gitana, a restaurant-sports bar run by the owners of Yankee Doodles. The housing will open by December and the retail space will be completed by next year. The city’s Masonic Hall also will be torn down and relocated in the office space of the new complex. “Leasing is excellent,” said Gangi Builders principal Frank Gangi. “We have 3,000 people on a waiting list (for the housing) and our retail space is 60 percent leased.” On Palm Avenue, a new AMC 17-screen multiplex theater will replace the older 14-screen AMC. In addition to the new theater, 40,000 square feet of retail space and 12,000 square feet of restaurant space will be added to the area. The city’s aging Elks Lodge, which has been in the neighborhood for nearly 70 years, also will be torn down. The city will pay $2 million for that site and give it to the developers, Los Angeles-based Centertainment Inc., according to McConkey. An 8,000-square-foot Gordon Biersch restaurant and brewery is also under construction at San Fernando Boulevard and Angeleno Avenue and is scheduled to open before Christmas. Meanwhile the Downtown Stakeholders Association is doing its part to liven up the area, Wagner said. The group, which represents 281 merchants in the area, decorated the village for holidays and is putting on events to attract foot traffic to the thoroughfare. A two-day Festival of the Arts every spring showcases paintings and sculptures of local artists and highlights foods from local restaurants. In the summer, they sponsor a music festival in which a jazz band performs on the street every Thursday evening and restaurants are allowed to place tables on the sidewalks for diners, Wagner said. Holiday events include a Harvest Festival in November and Christmas carolers during the holiday shopping season, she said.