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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

BID—N. Hollywood Hopes to Catch Subway Riders With BID

These days, Brian Sheehan is happy to see old regulars returning to his Eclectic Caf & #233; on Lankershim Boulevard. It’s been a year since the completion of construction on the nearby MTA subway line that reduced Sheehan’s business to a trickle. Today, Sheehan still is struggling to pay off a $120,000 loan he needed to stave off inevitable bankruptcy due to the construction-induced slowdown. Now, he and others are counting on the promise of a proposed North Hollywood Business Improvement District to help their financially battered businesses. “It was like a one-two punch. We had the earthquake and then the MTA came in and tore up Lankershim,” Sheehan said. “We haven’t seen a dime from the city so anything they do to help, I welcome.” The proposal, submitted earlier this month, still faces final approval by the City Attorney’s office and the City Council. That should come this week. “We have a very good program outlined that’s been well received by the city, so now we’re just waiting,” said Ken Banks, executive director of the North Hollywood Community Forum, which is leading the effort to establish the district. Under the plan, local merchants will be required to join the business district and must agree to pay a still-to-be-determined monthly membership fee that will fund the district’s activities. Such efforts have helped revitalize a number of business clusters around Southern California, including the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and Old Pasadena. Larry Higgs, owner of Le Petit Restaurant on Lankershim Boulevard, said the North Hollywood commercial district is in dire need of renovation and revitalization. “This area has been very depressed since the MTA began construction and it needs a lot of help,” Higgs said. “We need to market the area and bring in more business.” In October, the city allocated $2 million for the development of the district, contingent upon approval of a formal proposal. “If this can be done, it’ll be a boon to the local economy, but there are still a lot of questions,” Banks said. Streets, sidewalks first Funding would come from state transportation and beautification funds, approved by voters in the mid-1990s. Dale Thrush, planning deputy for City Councilman Joel Wachs, said the proposed district will concentrate efforts on street and sidewalk improvements. “The plans aren’t really specific right now, but I know they want to emphasize the streetscape along Lankershim,” said Thrush, explaining that more detailed projects would be outlined by the district once it is organized. The district will encompass an area along and around Lankershim Boulevard, from the Ventura (134) Freeway to just beyond Chandler Boulevard. An administrative agency will oversee the district and develop a marketing strategy. Thrusher said the BID proposal is a response to local merchant concerns about the impact of the three-year subway construction project. Sidewalks were closed and traffic was at one point funneled down to two lanes driving customers away. “Originally, they had $300,000 allocated for the merchants, but we knew that wasn’t nearly enough,” Banks said. The planned district would receive $500,000 in seed money to begin organizing upon council approval. The remainder would be distributed after the district is formally organized and its board of directors is approved by the city a process which could take five or six months, Banks said. “We’re looking to make this the commercial hub of the area because we’ll be close to the MTA Red Line station,” Banks said. Merchants say that, if the area is marketed properly, the Red Line station nearby should make it an ideal place for commuters to shop, eat and stroll. The proposal calls for repair and reconstruction of city streets and sidewalks, more trees and landscaping, and more parking spaces. Merchants would be able to get financial help from a fa & #231;ade improvement program and possibly interior remodeling. “The big boom in business that the MTA promised never happened,” said Sheehan. Now, he said, merchants need help. “We were all skeptical about it from the beginning,” said Sheehan, noting that at this point few subway users are patronizing local businesses. “We want to make this place attractive for people to come out and see what we have,” he said. Sheehan is still smarting from that period in the late 1990s when subway construction nearly closed his business. “It was a ghost town. I had to lay off 12 of my 30 employees just to stay open,” Sheehan said. Susan Levi, executive director for the year-old Village of Sherman Oaks Business Improvement District, said physical improvements in the North Hollywood district alone won’t do the trick. Merchants also must market themselves. “With over 30 in L.A. and thousands across the country, business improvement districts have proven themselves successful,” Levi said. “It’s a prime opportunity for NoHo to continue to revitalize itself because they’ve already made a lot of improvement along the way.”

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