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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Unlocking Potential

It was the end of another unseasonably warm winter day earlier this month, but despite the sun there was little warmth emanating from the large empty lot next door to the Magnolia Science Academy on Sherman Way. Skateboarders rolled over 4 acres of cracked asphalt, strewn with weeds and surrounded by sagging chain link fence in the heart of the Reseda business district. But the vision did not seem to faze City Councilman Bob Blumenfield. “I look at this and see an anchor – a catalyst for major change and transformation for Reseda,” he said, enthusiasm in his voice. While the potential may not be obvious, the blighted parcel in the 18100 block of Sherman Way just west of Lindley Avenue is the centerpiece of a new initiative the councilman is launching called “Reseda Rising.” Blumenfield is determined that it will finally jumpstart the long-delayed reboot of a neighborhood that has been decaying for decades. He called it his top priority – and a few things are underway already that lend credibility to the plan. First, Blumenfield and his staff have corralled $20 million in unused redevelopment bond money and around $6 million set aside by voters in 2001 – and apparently forgotten – for construction of a Reseda ice rink. He’s brought L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on board, getting Sherman Way included in the mayor’s Great Streets initiative. And he’s just completed a half-million-dollar median improvement project that spruced up Sherman Way medians with attractive landscaping. A non-profit group even has begun holding community steering committee meetings, gathering ideas from a dozen business and community leaders. Perhaps most importantly, Blumenfield has cobbled together enough land to accommodate a game-changing project to be developed on the 4-acre lot, a feat in a region dominated by tiny parcels and absentee landlords often indifferent to blight. About half of the parcel is former redevelopment land that was slated to be auctioned off before Blumenfield persuaded the City Council to preserve it for local economic development. The other half is owned by developer CIM Group, of Los Angeles. All of that has been enough to persuade some longtime business owners that, unlike a string of previous efforts that raised hopes but failed to deliver, this plan might actually succeed. “People in the community are energized and excited and Bob is very engaged. I think we’re on the right path,” said Diane Taylor, president of Traders Loan & Jewelry, a pawnshop that has been at the busy corner of Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way for 60 years. False starts Blumenfield is not the first to declare that he’s found a way to transform Reseda’s fortunes from its current state. A decade ago, blue-and-gold “Renaissance Reseda” banners lined retail streets in the postwar suburb where thousands of GI Generation couples bought their first homes. Pacific Electric Red Cars traveled down Sherman Way, bringing shoppers to a J.C. Penney’s department store and a J.J. Newberry’s five-and-dime. In the 1970s, it was home to a legendary concert venue called the Country Club, where U2 and Tina Turner performed. Hollywood studios used the town as a back lot, filming movies like “The Karate Kid” there. But nearby mall openings, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and changing demographics took their toll. Storefronts stayed frozen in time and infrastructure crumbled. By the early 2000s, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency had come up with a $67 million plan to renovate the business district and reopen the Reseda Theater, a beloved Art Deco/Moderne landmark on Sherman Way that had closed in 1988. The CRA purchased the venue in October 2004 for $1.3 million and planned to partner with CIM Group on an $8.7 million transformation of the theater into an 11,000-square-foot night club and performance space. A construction date was set for the summer of 2008. But financial troubles triggered by the recession made funding impossible. Then came 2011, and the dismantling of local redevelopment agencies by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature. Blumenfield, then a state assemblyman, had advocated for reforming redevelopment, rather than dismantling it. But the state Supreme Court turned down a legal challenge from cities and redevelopment agencies. Pawnshop owner Taylor remembers it well. She put her signature on a spiffy upgrade for her store’s exterior, to be funded by the CRA. The very next day, word came down from the courts that the agency would be dissolved. “It was very disappointing. Heartbreaking, really,” Taylor said. Once again, Reseda had missed out. Valley heart The community is determined that it won’t happen again. Blumenfield foresees a day when Sherman Way’s for-lease signs, thrift shops and discount stores are supplemented by lively small businesses, the new ice rink, a gym and maybe another entertainment venue with plenty of room for parking. “If I’m dreaming, it’d be great to see a space that non-profit groups could share and maybe a business incubator funded by federal dollars,” he said. None of that is impossible, said long-time Encino broker Richard Leyner, executive vice president at illi Commercial Real Estate. “If they could build that block up, I could see decent tenants going in there at around $2.50 a square foot,” he said. “There are a lot of people living around there that would attract users like UPS Store, a mobile phone store, a coffee shop. Somebody with some imagination could do a nice job.” CIM Group has owned half of the property for many years but refused to comment on the site. Blumenfield said he has met with them and they are excited about the parcel. CIM could be a potent partner, having developed a number of high-profile projects over the hill, including the 22-story Sunset/Gordon tower in Hollywood. In fact, Reseda is already finding itself in something of a comeback with its multifamily real estate sector. At the corner of Reseda Boulevard and Kittridge Street, a 254-unit apartment building and retail center is slated to replace one of Reseda’s ubiquitous auto shops. The WaterMark, developed by Metric Holdings Corp. of Los Angeles and designed by Albert Group Architects of Los Angeles, has generated buzz for embracing – rather than shunning – its place on the banks of the Los Angeles River. Two other mixed-use projects have been proposed in the past three months: Eli Chorbajian, principal at EMC Capital Investments Group in Glendale, has filed plans for a six-story, 170-unit apartment building with 15,000 square feet of commercial space at 6912 Reseda Blvd. And West Hollywood developer Demitri Samaha is moving ahead with a 49-unit apartment complex with 1,344 square feet of commercial space at 18840 W. Sherman Way. It will capitalize on the Great Streets project, which seeks to make 15 of the city’s thoroughfares more vibrant and pedestrian friendly. Athena Novak, principal at AHN & Associates, an Encino land use consulting firm that is representing the developers of those projects, said her surveys show high demand in the neighborhood for modern workforce housing. “There are thousands of professionals coming to the area to work every day but if they want to live in newer, high-end apartments they have to get in their cars and drive to Warner Center or Encino,” she said. With the renewed attention, money and imagination, Reseda might actually be rising – this time for real. “I grew up in the Valley and I remember when Reseda was a nice place to say that you lived,” Novak said. “I’m extremely pleased that I’m now part of the revitalization of this area. It’s been the heart of the Valley for a long time. It lost a little bit of its luster, but I think it’s coming back.”

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