Unhappy Property Owners, Bad Economy, Ending Business Improvement District In Magnolia


BurbankNBeyond Special Report

Editors Note:
  BurbankNBeyond News Editor Stan Lynch has talked to merchants and property owners in Magnolia Park to get the real story behind the “No Vote” on continuing the business improvement district in Magnolia Park.

By Stan Lynch

The vote to not continue the Magnolia Park Partnership, which was announced at the Burbank City Council Meeting on September 20, brought into the open a growing dissatisfaction by property owners and merchants in this otherwise tranquil section of Burbank.
Although special events, like “Be-Bopping In The Park,” which was held last month, and the annual “Holiday In The Park”, which will be held November 18, have been extremely successful in attracting people to the Magnolia Park area, that success hasn’t benefitted many of the businesses.
The Partnership is a Property-based Business Improvement District (P-BID) that was voted in by commercial property owners in Magnolia Park.  The district includes Magnolia Blvd. from Buena Vista St. to Pass Ave., and Hollywood Way from Clark Ave. to Chandler Blvd.   Started five years ago, the P-BID expires at the end of this year. It is controlled by a board of directors, and managed by the City of Burbank. 
Supporters of the P-BID had sought to renew it for another five-year term.  Property owners, not business operators who only rent space, were eligible to vote in the election.  Votes were weighted according to the amount of square footage a property owner had.  Just over 54% of the votes were opposed to renewing the P-BID.  Property owners are assessed 12 cents per square foot, with ground floor footage assessed an additional 5 cents, according to the City.  The money raised, approximately $250,000 per year, came back to the Magnolia Park Partnership to be used for promotional activities, improvements to the area, and the staff that manages the district.  Gail Stewart, Marketing Manager for the City’s Community Development Department manages the district.
Ira Lippman, owner of the Pet Emporium and The Jelly Bean Factory, is the president of the Partnership.  He was very disappointed by the vote, as was Stewart.
“I thought the P-BID was terrific.  It did a lot of good,” said Lippman.  He noted that the Partnership pays for weekly sidewalk sweeping and steam cleaning three times per year. One of the most significant things the Partnership did was work with the City to reduced the parking requirements for restaurants that move into buildings that are 1,500 square feet or less.
Feeling that they were “sold a bill of goods,” some business owners say the Partnership never delivered on the promises that were made five years ago when the P-BID was touted as a way to attract new businesses, such as cafes like those on San Fernando Blvd.  As one merchant put it, “We were promised restaurants, new businesses, and landscaping — and all we got were events.”
Councilman Dr. David Gordon, who office is located in the district on Hollywood Way, echoed those feelings, “The P-BID didn’t provide what it promised.  It was defeated because the merchants were very upset.” Adding, “I enjoyed the events, but they didn’t benefit my business.”
Some merchants felt the banners and the flower pots with pink geraniums hung from lampposts at intersections, did nothing to help their particular businesses.  Even Lippman noted that events like “Be-Bopping In The Park” didn’t particularly help his businesses, which are located on Hollywood Way, but that they benefitted the entire area by attracting more people to Magnolia Park.
A proposed parking lot on Magnolia Blvd. between Kenwood and Maple Streets, under Los Angeles DWP power lines, is another thing that would not directly benefit most merchants.  There is only one retail business on that block, and they have their own parking lot.  Lippman noted that parking is always needed, and the lot could be used for employee parking of other large businesses, thus freeing up more parking near stores for customers, and keeping cars off residential streets.
The Partnership has set aside $50,000 each year towards that parking lot, for a total of $250,000.  Now that the P-BID will end, the fate of the lot is uncertain.  Lippman was unsure about it.
We made repeated calls to the City attempting to find out where the money will go, but our calls were not returned. A quarter of a million dollars isn’t chump change, so we’ll update you if we ever find out where the money is going.
Parking is one of the successes for the Partnership.  The angle parking on Cordova, Avon, and Lima Streets has helped the parking situation for merchants by creating more spaces.
Tony Bonfiglio, owner of Burtype on the corner of Magnolia Blvd. and Florence St., thinks the angle parking is a good thing, even though it is several blocks away from his business. However, he was very vocal in his opposition to renewing the P-BID.
“The P-BID is not good for non-retail businesses,” said Bonfiglio, whose company sells commercial copiers to businesses.  He feels that it is increasing his property taxes without increasing his property value.  “The type of promotions they put on didn’t significantly increase business for the retail merchants.”
Don May, a landlord who owns property on Magnolia Blvd. in the heart of the business district also voted against renewing the P-BID.  “I don’t think it did anything for the business owners.  They (the Partnership) brought in the wrong businesses.”
While many merchants voiced a desire to see more cafes in the area, getting a restaurant to locate to the area isn’t that simple.  Lippman noted that the Partnership cannot dictate what kind of businesses go into empty store fronts.  “Some merchants are unhappy with nail shops and beauty salons,” said Lippman, “But we have no control over what business choose to locate here.
One business that might have been met with the approval of the merchants was the California Chicken Cafe.  The company wanted to locate in a large building on the corner of Magnolia Blvd. and Niagara St. a few years ago.  While the merchants supported it, residents were opposed to it, and the City would not allow it to go in.
The added cost of the special assessment to property owners may have been a factor.  With a bad economy for the past three years, businesses are hurting.  Some merchants I spoke with felt that they were not getting their money’s worth, citing the hanging flower baskets above broken sidewalks as an example of the money being wasted.  Others complained of what they felt was a “hostile” attitude towards businesses by the City.
That perception, more than the modest tax increase, may be at the heart of the opposition to the P-BID.  The property owner of a 1,200 sq. ft. store would be assessed an addition $200 per year.  As Lippman,, whose property covers about 7,000 sq. ft.,  noted, “My yearly assessment is about what I would spend on just one newspaper ad.”
It may just be the economy that changed opinions about the P-BID.  As Dr. Gordon put it, “The last thing you want to do to small businesses is add more taxes.”
Although the P-BID will not be renewed, the City will continue to work with the merchants in Magnolia Park, according to Stewart.

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