OVER THE RAINBOW-Hollywood leaders have a history of dreaming BIG and making things happen that might not happen elsewhere. The Hollywood Sign is a perfect example. Hollywood entrepreneurs put it up on the hillside, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rescued it when it was falling down in 1948. It has become the symbol of Southern California.
The Hollywood Bowl is another great case. Who would have thought that a small group of community leaders would have the vision back in 1919 to purchase a hillside and develop an outdoor amphitheater that would seat 18,000 people? Likewise, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has become internationally renowned. It originated as an idea of a president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, E.M. Stuart, who was the general manager of the Broadway Hollywood Department Store. It took six years to make that idea a reality.
People still dream big in Hollywood. Last week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join a delegation of the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park. This is another big idea – to put a one-mile long cap (cover) over the Hollywood Freeway in the area where the freeway is below grade between Hollywood Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. The cap would create a 38-acre regional park at a cost estimated to approach $1 billion.
Most people would shy away from such an ambitious undertaking, but not the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park (FHCP). Since this nonprofit, grassroots organization was formed in 2008, it has made annual trips to the nation’s capital to brief our representatives. Their president, Laurie Goldman, is passionate about the park. At our meetings in Washington, she explained in detail to numerous congressional representatives, the Department of Housing & Urban Development as well as the Department of Transportation the progress that has been made.
It was obvious that those in the meetings had been briefed before and were extremely interested in and supportive of the proposed park. While other cap parks have been built around the nation, few have been as ambitious as this one or driven by a grassroots coalition. And of course, this one is proposed in Hollywood, which makes it that much more interesting.
Goldman and her delegation explained that Hollywood is one of the lowest resident-to-park-space communities in California (and the nation). Our community has only 0.005 acres of open space per resident as compared to 0.012 acres of open space within the City of Los Angeles. The benefits in improving the quality of life for our residents are obvious. Green space and athletic fields will change the equation for thousands of residents. Air quality will improve substantially, and the two sides of Hollywood will be knit back together after a separation of more than 60 years. And thousands of construction jobs will be created by the project.
FHCP was successful in securing over $2 million in funding for an environmental impact report on the park, which will be released later this year. It is far ahead of all other freeway cap park proposals in Southern California and will likely point the way for them.
Of course, the big question is how you raise a billion dollars. FHCP has turned over every rock looking for possible sources, and is making progress. One possibility they are currently studying is an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD). The EIFD is a new tool that the legislature in Sacramento authorized and the Governor approved that allows communities to create districts that would tap into tax increment financing for specific projects, such as parks (kind of “Community Redevelopment Agency-lite”). If FHCP uses an EIFD, then they would dedicate 25 percent of the revenue generated for affordable housing. The New Promise Zone for Los Angeles may present other opportunities to seek federal funding.
I came back from Washington convinced that the FHCP can indeed make this park a reality. There is a lot that can be achieved when you do not take “no” for an answer. Sociologist Margaret Meade’s famous quote applies here: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We are lucky to still have people who dream big in Hollywood. Our best wishes for continued progress to the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park!
(Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)