The city will continue exploring specifically how to revitalize the arts and entertainment district along Artsakh Avenue that includes Glendale-owned storefronts, and will likely identify locally based “destination” businesses to populate the pedestrian-friendly pathway.
In the meantime, economic development officials will put together a plan to bring in pop-up businesses to either take up a storefront for up to six months or set up an outdoor venue in which to operate. The experiences and successes of these short-term pop-ups would inform the city’s long-range decisions on the area once additions and updates to the plan for the avenue are completed as soon as 2022.
All that is the upshot of a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, when the panel engaged the services of consultants to help guide Artsakh’s evolution.
Jennifer Hiramoto, deputy director of community development, said she was “very excited” about the action, “in part because we have discussed the future of Artsakh Avenue now for several years, and at the heart of those conversations is the future of the retail districts.”
As the city has planned its revitalization of the corridor, questions remained regarding the city-owned retail units of 117-131 Artsakh Ave., which were constructed in 1990 alongside the parking structure by the city’s then-Redevelopment Agency. The city bought the properties for $1.53 million in 2018, sometime after the state pulled the plug on redevelopment agencies in 2012.
“Originally, the intent was to sell the property through an auction, but as council started to re-envision the options for Artsakh Avenue, council opted to change course and decide, ‘Let’s take fate into our own hands and ultimately be in charge of what types of tenants we see in those spaces,’” Hiramoto said. “Our hands have been tied; we have been unable to enter into any new leases in these units, and today is really a milestone of a conversation for us as we talk about the options at hand.”
The eight units total 9,031 square feet of space. Three are occupied under month-to-month leases; the last time all eight were occupied was in 2014, according to Hiramoto. The city has since used the vacant locations for storage or event use.
Ahead of the planned re-envisioning of Artsakh that is expected to be budgeted next year, the city hired two consultants — Estolano Advisors and the Maxima Group — to help analyze long-term use of those retail outlets.
“It’s very central to what we’re calling ‘cultural anchors,’” said Maxima owner Patricia Flynn, referring to the Alex Theatre, Museum of Neon Art and cinemas. “It’s very strategically located, and the pedestrian street has just a really lovely, authentic look and feel. That’s a very precious thing and something we immediately identified as something we wanted to maintain and enhance.”
Flynn ultimately recommended that the city keep the smaller units as they are, rather than combine them into larger spaces, and to fill them with food, artisanal and arty venues that can keep the district active day and night: a pub or distillery, a specialty cheese or olive oil shop, a comedy club or commercial kitchen. The proximity to Brand Boulevard and large shopping networks is a plus, as is the ample parking, but Flynn noted that the lack of rear access may limit venues like restaurants.
“It’s not a fatal flaw, but it’s just something that’s going to have to be taken into consideration for its uses,” she said. “We also liked what I’m calling the ‘fine grain’ of the smaller users. It brings a lot of interest and diversity and different perspectives to the street, and we thought that was very consistent with and enhancing to the pedestrian nature of the site.”
To picture the possible future of the space, Flynn conjured the Anaheim Packing House, the Fourth Street Market in Santa Ana or the Orange Street Alley in Redlands. Locally, she also brought up the “food district” in Pasadena, off Union Street.
“I couldn’t invent a better comparable project if I had tried,” she said. “This is literally an almost identical space to what you have in Artsakh.”
The idea of utilizing pop-up ventures in the area was partially born of the unsolicited offers to set up shop in the Artsakh district temporarily. According to Hiramoto, such ventures have included an improv/comedy class by a studio hoping to find a permanent location in Glendale and a variety of art exhibitions and galleries associated with the Museum of Neon Art, the Armenian Consulate and a revived Mkrtchyan Art Gallery.
This “Glendale Pops!” program would begin in the fall and last for around two years, use at least three of the vacant locations and target ventures that have hopes to grow into a brick-and-mortar location eventually, according to the staff report.
“This would enable us to at least put some life on Artsakh,” Hiramoto said.
The City Council unanimously agreed to retain the long-term analysts for planning purposes in the district and also to move forward with the pop-up plan. Some expressed want for more flair in scheming out the area.
“It’s a good start. I just think it feels a little bit bland,” Councilman Dan Brotman said. “I like the idea of destination tenants. Definitely, we want to have Glendale be on the map and people to actually come to Glendale because they hear about this, but some of the things on there like juice bars, that’s not a destination.”
Brotman added he hoped to see “bold and innovative” ventures here, rather than a repeat of what can be found along Brand or at the Americana. As an example, he cited a restaurant in Pennsylvania that gained notoriety for basing its menu on locations where the U.S. is engaged in military conflict at the time.
“Now, I’m not saying we replicate that, but that’s something that’s provocative, right?” he added. “It would be kind of cool; we could have something else that gets people talking.”
Councilman Ara Najarian wondered whether the street could incorporate more homages to Armenia, or the corridor’s own namesake.
“Maybe a store — an art store, that can tie in Artsakh the country, Armenia, the republic — to Artsakh the street,” he said.