By Joseph Serna, Staff Writer
More than 100 Bixby Knolls residents and storeowners met with Bixby Plaza representatives at Charles Evans Hughes Middle School Monday, a chance for the businessmen to hear directly from residents what they do and do not want in their maturing business district.
The window for change is small, as (tentatively named) Bixby Plaza construction kicked off Monday on the southeast corner of Carson Street and Atlantic Avenue, with major construction expected to be completed sometime in the fall and a new restaurant opening expected by the end of the year.
The site sits atop what used to be a gas station.
The overall layout has been set, explained Alan Burks, the Bixby Plaza architect. Parking, design, even landscaping cannot be changed by the developers. However, what goes into the 11,831-square-foot building is still in the air.
While a Wachovia bank, a posh Italian restaurant and FedEx Kinkos having been inked as tenants, others, such as a Gamestop (a videogame rental store), a nail spa, a Korean barbecue restaurant, a Philly Cheesesteak shop or a hot wing restaurant are being considered.
Some potential tenants floated at the meeting received less than a warm reception from local business owners and residents.
“The last thing I need to see is a nail spa, a bank and a teenage hangout,” said Krista Leaders, who owns Chroma Glass in Bixby Knolls. Leaders argued none of those businesses encouraged growth for neighboring storefronts. Rather, she said they were more come-do-business-and-leave type of stores.
Audience members recommended a Jewish deli, a card or gift shop, a champagne bagel shop, and a fresh fish restaurant, to name a few unexplored ideas.
Mark Bolour, principal of Bolour and Associates, said filling the plaza with proper tenants was a balancing act.
The plaza cannot have too many businesses that encourage longtime parking, or too many that have quick turnover, he said.
One only needs to point to the Wachovia bank and the Italian food and wine bar to see the balance, Balour said. The bank is expected to close at 5 p.m., the restaurant will probably not open until 4:30 p.m. He added that while restaurant clients would park longer, FedEx Kinkos customers are probably out relatively quickly.
Balour admittedly has a financial stake in the restaurant’s success, he said his company had to give the owner, Davideh Visentin, almost complete financial backing to convince him to give the Bixby Knolls clientele a try with a new restaurant.
According to Burks, Balour and Centers Business Management Leasing Agent Michael Pakravan, two issues lie in the way of the Atlantic Corridor’s development: Its affluent community is an unproven well of revenue; and finding space for new buildings and their needed parking is proving nearly impossible.
“We need the city to step up and build a parking structure,” Balour said, addressing the audience and 8th District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich specifically. “A parking structure really is the key to this formula.”
“No offense,” Pakravan told the audience, who quickly silenced to hear what he would utter next. “But when we talk to potential tenants, there is the idea out there that Bixby Knolls residents are at home and asleep by 10 [p.m.] And that isn’t very appealing for restaurants looking to attract a young clientele that will ring up $50 at the bar.”
That fact, which Gabelich acknowledged, was met with some laughter.
“We may not charge $50 at the bar,” she countered. “But we are the ones that will have the $100 bill for our meal.”
The Bixby Knolls business district has not fully bloomed yet, and because of that, attracting higher-end establishments has proven difficult, Balour reiterated. His firm’s plan is to lease out spaces at the Plaza for three to five years, and when the community has proven itself as a financial powerhouse, bringing in the businesses residents truly want will be easier.
As far as parking goes, Susan Cooper, the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association executive director, said finding excess land for extra spaces or getting absentee-tenants to sell their businesses is more realistic than a parking structure.
That, she said “is a long time away.”
The plaza will have 58 off-street parking spaces, a five-parking-spaces-to-1,000-square-feet of business ratio. That ratio is greater than anywhere else in Bixby Knolls, which generally only averages two or three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, Burks said.
Available parking there would satisfy Long Beach code, which, for the Plaza’s size and location of available parking, would require four spaces for every 1,000 square feet of business.
Pakravan encouraged any Bixby Knolls residents with ideas for tenants to contact him at (818) 380-9966, ext. 25.
By Joseph Serna, Staff Writer