MORRIS NEWMAN Contributing Reporter Some big hopes are riding on a proposed $30 million redevelopment of the Van Nuys Civic Center. The project, which would bring all the regional government offices in the San Fernando Valley together into one central location, has the potential to restore and renew a neighborhood that many businesses abandoned years ago and is now marked by empty storefronts, graffiti and garbage. Property owners, business people and elected officials are finalizing plans for the 135,000-square-foot complex, which is intended as a regional branch of Los Angeles City Hall. Last month, the Van Nuys project took a decisive step, when the council’s City Hall Committee approved construction near the intersection of Van Nuys and Oxnard. The project now requires a vote from the full council. If approved, Voit Cos., a Woodland-Hills based developer, will build a complex of shops, restaurants and a “market plaza” as well as government offices. Groundbreaking is scheduled for January 1999, with completion expected in May 2000. In addition to the new shops planned, the rebuilding of the Civic Center is expected to attract additional businesses to fill empty storefronts and refurbish existing ones. And new office tenants attorneys, insurance companies and real estate firms hoping to take advantage of the ready market of consumers the development will bring may set up shop in the area as well. “Any type of business that will lend itself to the folks working here will want to move closer,” said Ron Feinstein, president of All Valley Washer Service, who is also president of the Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce. The new project would contrast dramatically with the current condition of the Civic Center complex, which is a group of aging buildings surrounded by a tangle of temporary structures. “This is the place for constituent service for the entire Valley. It should be more than make-shift trailers.” said City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who is consulting with local property owners on the plan, and helping to organize a Business Improvement District for the immediate area. Miscikowski, whose district includes the Civic Center area, said the new building will enable the city to consolidate its offices, which currently lease office space in multiple locations in the Valley, into a single location. That should make it easier for contractors, homeowners and other people who are seeking to pull multiple permits. Among the public agencies that will have offices in the Van Nuys Civic Center will be the Council District No. 11, the Planning Department, City Attorney, Building & Safety, Engineering, Contract Administration, Street Maintenance, Department of Transportation, Fire and Construction permits, and a 10,000-square-foot public meeting space. At the same time, the accustomed dreariness of city offices will be enlivened with retail and food services, according to Miscikowski. “We are going to put in coffee shops, so people can use them while waiting for a hearing or waiting to get something processed in government offices,” the councilwoman said. “The whole area should be more enjoyable and comfortable.” The proposed Civic Center, in fact, has already created interest among investors and commercial tenants, according to Feinstein. “As more and more people have heard about (the complex), they have shown much more interest in securing property in the area, either by lease or by purchase,” he said. The Civic Center, he added, is “definitely going to create more jobs in the area, and can possibly benefit small restaurants, stores, banks, dry cleaners, tailors and similar businesses,” he said. The redevelopment could bring as many as 2,000 to 3,000 people to the Civic Center area each day, customers that local businesses can draw on, according to merchants in the area. Bill Wirt, co-owner of Bargain Books, a second-hand book store, has posted a sign advertising his shop so that it faces the court house. At lunchtime, dozens of jurors, who might not otherwise have ventured into Van Nuys, come to visit his shop, and later become repeat customers. “I get 20 or 30 new people every week,” the book-store owner said. Wirt, in fact, said he had not heard of the Civic Center project, but said he thought it was a good idea. “Any time they can make changes, it would be nice,” he said. “Anything to help get more people would be welcome.” Right now, an estimated 10 percent of the storefronts that surround the area are vacant. Many others have become signposts for urban blight swap meets, pawn shops and stores that place their wares out on the street. “Because of the economic times in recent years a lot of these good businesses have left and gone to shopping malls,” Feinstein said. But once the rebuilding starts, and property values begin going up, that will change, Feinstein hopes. “In five years we’ll see a tremendous change in the area,” he said. The Mid-Valley Chamber has organized a new business improvement district, known as the Van Nuys Auto Row, stretching from Magnolia on the south to Calvert on the north (just a few blocks south of the Civic Center). The organization is currently raising about $30,000 from its member businesses to create banners, freeways and new landscaping along the stretch of the boulevard with a concentration of auto dealers. Additionally, the Van Nuys group has received a $1 million grant from Mayor Richard Riordan’s office. Known as a Mayor’s Targeted Neighborhood grant, the money will be spent on landscaping, street improvements and other purposes to be identified by a committee of local stake holders. The chamber hopes Auto Row will become the first leg of a project that eventually stretches north to the Civic Center area. Van Nuys Civic Center Year Founded: 1932 Origins: Van Nuys was founded in 1911, on the site of what had been wheat fields; the community was named after a wheat farmer. In the 1920s, Van Nuys Boulevard became one of the first business streets in the Valley. In 1932, the community became a government center, with the construction of the Van Nuys Municipal Building. That complex has grown piecemeal until the late 1980s, when the county courthouse was built. Business Profile: Small storefront businesses including a number of discount shops and pawn shops.