Group Has Revival Plan for South Lake District

Pasadena Star-News

By Janette Williams, Staff Writer

PASADENA – Once the city’s ritziest shopping district, South Lake Avenue has taken a back seat to Old Pasadena over the past decade.

To raise the money to regain its luster – and keep up with its trendy Old Pasadena and Playhouse District neighbors – a South Lake Property-Based Improvement District (PBID) will be formed by the end of the year to pay for the $2.4 million in improvements.

Under the new set-up, property owners, not tenants or merchants, will be assessed annual dues. This will increase and stabilize the district’s budget, leaving it unaffected by business closures, Rhonda Bennet, president of the South Lake Business District, said Monday.

In past months, The Good Guys, Tower Records, Living Feast and Lee-Mac Camera have closed she said, and no one has yet moved into the long-gone Stroud’s Linens, all having substantial effects on the annual operating budget.

The new system will bring in about $485,000 a year rather than the present $160,000 or so, Bennet said, and will allow a planned four-year renovation to go ahead.

“We were uncertain how people would feel… but 7- percent of property owners voted yes, they wanted to do it,” Bennet said.

Improvements to South Lake Avenue’s median strip, lighting and bench seating are planned to start with, Bennet said, and the district hopes to become more attractive to both new and out-of-town shoppers.

“For 25 or 30 years, South Lake was the shopping district, with the flagship Bullocks Pasadena store,” said Carleton Maese, a South Lake Avenue Business District board member. “But with the growth of Old Pasadena going back 10 years and the new development of bog-box retailers in East Pasadena, South lake is not viewed as prime retail.”

Condominiums, apartments and major financial institutions – including Merril Lynch, Wachovia and Citibank – have moved into high-rises and changed the district’s look, Maese said.
“But we like to see restaurants and retail at street-level” for locals, workers, and out-of-town shoppers, he said.

“With the help of the PBID we’ll attract retailers,” Maese added. “But we need to identify and be clear where our niche in retail is. We don’t have Tiffany, we don’t have Gucci, we’re not a Rodeo Drive. but I do think what we do have is medium to higher-level boutiques and salons and we don’t compete with big box or Tiffany.”

City Planning Director Richard Bruckner said a revitalized South Lake would complement the improvements in Old Pasadena and the Playhouse District, which are all linked by ARTS bus service.

“We don’t see them as competitive,” Bruckner said, “South Lake is more of a traditional shopping street and, when it was surveyed, had older customers. but it’s got a great collection of retail.”

Bruckner pointed to the recent sale of the Shops on Lake, fronting Macey’s, to Vornado, “a very high-end retail and office management company based in New York,” as a sign of better things to come.

“They are well-capitalized, and very involved in retain, and I’m very upbeat on the future of South lake,” he said.

Steve Mulheim, president of the Old Pasadena Management District, said they’ve had a PBID for 10 years.

“I think it’s a great benefit to South Lake, allowing them to be better organized as businesses come and go.” Mulheim said. “It helps all of us become a regional destination.”

Mulheim said officials of the three districts have started meeting regularly to find ways of improving the entire Central District.

“We’re looking at issues important to all of us,” he said. “One of the things we’re looking at is a mechanism, not exactly the ARTS buses, that links all three districts, so people can park one time and visit the entire Central District.”