Fashion District, Take Two
The business improvement district covering the Fashion District, which provides safety, cleaning and marketing services for the 94-block area, is set to be cut by about one-third, and its $3.3 million budget will be slashed to approximately $2 million. Photo by Gary Leonard.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Leaders of the business improvement district that manages the Fashion District have decided to significantly downsize their operations. The move comes after members displeased with the BID's direction refused to vote in favor of renewing the district for another five years and threatened to form their own breakaway group.

According to the plan, the 94-block Fashion District will be shrunk by about one-third and its former $3.3 million budget will be slashed to $2 million. Fashion District BID Executive Director Kent Smith said he expects to obtain approval of the smaller district from the City Council by the end of the year, allowing it to take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

Smith also hopes to create a second sub-district, called Fashion District II, which would account for the remainder of the original Fashion District, but it is not clear yet whether that will be successful.

The Fashion District BID launched in 1996, and since then has provided street cleaning, safety and marketing services for the largely apparel-oriented southern portion of Downtown Los Angeles. In order to be renewed for another five-year term in 2009, BID leaders first needed to collect signatures from landlords representing 50% of the district's property. Earlier this year, however, dozens of property owners withheld their support, and by June the BID had just 35% of the district's land accounted for in its petition.

The opponents, largely longtime landlords who lease space to garment industry businesses, charged that the BID had lost focus as it grew to encompass more residential projects and large fashion houses, and that annual dues had become too expensive (stakeholders pay a fee based on how much property they own). They took steps toward forming their own organization, the Garment District BID, which they planned to formalize by the end of the year.

Attorney Steven Barnhill, who represented the group, said at the time that Garment District supporters would be amenable to divvying up the existing BID instead of creating their own. Barnhill, along with property owners who helped spearhead the Garment District BID effort, did not return phone calls last week.

Peter Fleming, president and CEO of the City Market of Los Angeles and previously an outspoken critic of the Fashion District BID, said that while the new arrangement helps quell concerns, he is "ambivalent" about the deal. "It's the same people," he said.

Seeking Approval

The newly defined Fashion District comprises about two-thirds of the original district. It encompasses most of the area bounded by the Santa Monica Freeway to the south, Seventh Street to the north, San Pedro Street to the east and Spring and Main streets to the west.

What would be Fashion District II cuts into a small area on the east side of the main Fashion District, mostly bounded by Pico Boulevard on the south, Stanford Avenue on the east, San Pedro Street to the west and Ninth Street to the north. It would include most of the property owners who supported the Garment District BID.

"The boundaries were done when we thought we would have property owners opposed to the renewal," said Smith. "We tried to basically make it easier to get the BID renewed."

In recent years, annual dues for the more than 700 property owners within the Fashion District ranged from approximately $50 to more than $100,000. With the new borders, dues will be redistributed so that most property owners throughout the district will pay less, said Smith, though a minority will pay more.

Smith said he has already met the 50% threshold of signatures for the new Fashion District and expects it to be approved by the City Council before the end of the year. Meanwhile, the signature campaign for Fashion District II began last week, and Smith admitted that it could be difficult to get it up and running by Jan. 1.

"Fashion District II is more of a challenge," he said, though he added that he does not expect to see the same kind of resistance this time around. "What we're really thankful and delighted about is most of those property owners opposed to the BID have turned around."

Contact Anna Scott at anna@downtownnews.com.

page 3, 10/27/2008

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