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Van Nuys

Van Nuys/SFVFeb/26 inches/1stjc/mark2nd BRAD BERTON Staff Reporter Depending on one’s perspective, the latest Van Nuys Civic Center makeover plan is too complicated to attract a private developer, too small to help clean up the neighborhood or a well-conceived plan that could kick-start revitalization. The City of Los Angeles began soliciting interest from private development teams in late January for a 200,000-square-foot Valley “City Hall” office building within the Van Nuys Civic Center district at which various city, county, state and federal agencies would consolidate. But the city won’t know until early March just how many developers are serious about becoming the city’s partner in the project despite efforts to scale down earlier plans and make the public-private partnership more private-sector-friendly. “These competitions cost lots of money and require lots of effort,” said prominent local office developer Jerry Snyder of Miracle Mile-based J.H. Snyder Co. “The Van Nuys neighborhood is fine for development, but it’s much easier to go out and buy property on our own,” Snyder added. However, the leader of a key local homeowners association said the plan doesn’t do enough to eradicate blight. “It’s a good start and a good idea, it’s part of what that particular area needs. But the problem is that it doesn’t go far enough because it only addresses the Civic Center and only one site there,” said Don Schultz, president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Association. The city “should make a concentrated effort to clean up the whole stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard” from Vanowen Street south to the railroad tracks just north of Oxnard Street, he said. “It looks horrible; that’s what is keeping businesses away,” Schultz said. For decades the Van Nuys area was a major commercial strip in the San Fernando Valley, but the proliferation of malls and the rise of other shopping districts has contributed to the area’s decline. Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the area, said the new civic building is needed as a first step in revitalizing the area. “I consider it the most important and badly needed project in the San Fernando Valley,” Braude said. “It is the essence the heart of the Valley. It is the distribution place for serving the Valley. It is the symbolic center of the Valley.” The city’s top real estate official said the Civic Center project reflects the Riordan administration’s efforts to facilitate a private-sector approach to L.A.’s facilities programs. “We’re trying to privatize the development process to the maximum extent possible to get the most benefit from private participation,” said Dan Rosenfeld, the Department of General Services’ Assistant General Manager for Asset Management. Rosenfeld also stressed that the city is prepared to offer loans of up to $75,000 to cover a development team’s pre-development costs if for some reason the project doesn’t go ahead. Claire Bartels, the department’s point person on the project, noted that more than 60 parties had requested copies of the “request for qualifications” the first week after they became available Jan. 21. Notable building firms include Dinwiddie Construction Co., Caruso Affiliated Holdings, Kajima Development Corp., Pankow Cos., Voit Cos., Keller Construction, Goldrich & Kest and Koll Group. “The response has been very favorable,” Bartels commented. In replacing the old, earthquake-damaged existing structure in the Van Nuys Civic Center district, the city expects to lease a 2-plus-acre site to a private development team for 20 to 30 years and lease back much of the office space, Rosenfeld explained. The private development team would oversee design, financing, construction and marketing of the facility, which would include shops, outdoor dining/ entertainment areas and a parking structure. Thus, Rosenfeld and his colleagues among the city’s facilities and development staffers are expecting more interest from developers in the current project than came with a more complex building plan the city floated about five years ago. That’s because the earlier “request for proposals” became so loaded down with requirements such as child care facilities and affordable housing contributions that there was no interest, according to one consultant involved in the previous RFP distribution. “The government will always be at least somewhat bureaucratic,” Rosenfeld conceded. But under the city’s revised approach, “it’s really not much more bureaucratic than doing a build-to-suit for an Amgen or a DreamWorks,” he added. The revised project is also scaled down from a more ambitious program that Braude, who is retiring this year, had proposed two years ago. That Civic Center makeover was to include a civic auditorium, movie theaters, a mix of new offices and retail development even a gateway bell tower. But his council colleagues nixed the bulk of that plan, leaving the government office building and much-needed parking structure as the primary components of the current rendition. The planned new building, adjacent to the existing eight-story, 1932-vintage building on Sylvan Street near Van Nuys Boulevard, is to house city employees now stationed at various sites around the San Fernando Valley and even some to be relocated from downtown L.A., Rosenfeld added. His department began sending out requests for qualifications to interested parties on Jan. 21. Completed qualification packages are due back to the General Services Department’s Asset Management Division March 3. At public hearings on Braude’s more extensive previous redevelopment proposal, several Van Nuys businesspeople and homeowners, including Schultz, had questioned whether the city could attract a private developer without first implementing programs aimed at revitalizing downtown Van Nuys’ blighted primary thoroughfare: Van Nuys Boulevard. But others had supported the proposal as a key potential catalyst to further redevelopment in the neighborhood. The council representative “has the inherent responsibility to make (Van Nuys Boulevard) what it used to be, the heart of Van Nuys” with bustling legitimate retail business rather than “illegal signage and street vendors,” Schultz said. But he added that developers are more likely to respond to the current proposal. Previous development proposals “were too broad and large and that is what was distracting developers.” The scaled-down plan should make it easier to “attract a developer that won’t think (the project) is too overwhelming.” Developer Snyder said last week that he’s not interested in competing for a public contract with other private development teams. “I just don’t like reading scripts for parts any more. There’s an enormous amount of design work involved, and there’s the endless meeting with bureaucrats,” he said.

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