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Museum of Neon Lights Up Glendale Halfway

With all the complications cities have experienced trying to move along with their redevelopment projects, you might think folks in Glendale would be happy. After all, the city has been allowed to proceed with a $2.3 million project that will relocate the Museum of Neon Art to Brand Boulevard from Los Angeles. The museum project, which was approved by the state in October, has had some complications, however. Though the city recently was awarded $14 million in funds for the next six months to cover its redevelopment obligations, that figure does not cover $3.6 million dollars to fund bonds to build a parking garage and walkways adjacent to the museum site. Funding for that project was denied. Philip Lanzafame, executive officer of economic development and asset management, said the city plans to petition funding for the walkways and parking lots when the state considers another round of allocation requests due in March. “We just weren’t able to get beyond bare bones,” Lanzafame said. That Glendale should find itself in this position is remarkable given the city’s history. For all the derision critics heap on redevelopment – from sweetheart deals with favored developers to millions wasted on boondoggle projects – the city transformed its downtown through the program. Once an aging strip of shops, Brand Boulevard became a high-rise district that attracted multinational corporations, while malls such as the Glendale Galleria and the Americana at Brand were constructed. The city also improved its cultural life by spending redevelopment funds to renovate its historic Alex Theater on Brand Boulevard into a venue for concerts, plays and other performances. So when the Museum of Neon Art closed its doors in June 2011after moving around multiple L.A. location since its 1981 founding, Glendale officials sought to bring it to the city. It will reopen on Brand Boulevard across from Americana at Brand, alerting people the city is more than just a retail destination. “We were looking for a cultural anchor,” Lanzafame said. “We thought the Museum of Neon Art would give us something unique that would be a nice attraction for people.” ‘Every inch’ However, the $14 million Glendale received last month will only be enough to make two payments due to Union Bank, which loaned money to develop Vassar City Lights, a 700-unit affordable housing project on San Fernando Road. The city had requested the state release $47 million in redevelopment funding, with the money not only going to the walkways and the parking lot adjacent to the museum but to renovations of the city library and rehabilitation of Central Avenue downtown. “Because of the state’s greed, we’re going to have to fight for every inch,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa. “It hurts to beg and have to sing for supper every six months. The $14 million will meet our obligations for the next six months and that’s it.” In the next round of allocation requests due in March, Glendale will ask for money for those projects. If the parking lot project is again denied, the city will have to make due with a minor upgrade, which Lanzafame said would not be nearly as nice. Glendale has yet to determine the exact dollar amount it will request. As for the Museum of Neon Art, it has already signed a 15-year lease to house its collection in a 7,500 square-foot space which combines two vacant buildings at 212 and 216 S. Brand Blvd. The agreement waives rent for the first two years to help the museum get back on its financial feet. In addition, there are three lease options that could keep the museum on Brand Boulevard for a total of 25 years. The project has not yet broken ground, but the city is in the process of reviewing bids and expects construction to begin this spring. Kim Koga, director of the museum, said a permanent spot in the city will be a huge step, given its history of multiple locations, none of which were ideal. “We’ve never been in an area so populated,” she said.

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