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On Garde in Temple City

March 30th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

clip_image002Development Consulting Firm Avant Garde Hired by Council to Aid in Economic Revival

The Temple City Council took a big step towards commercial revitalization last Monday by voting to commence work with consulting firm Avant Garde after over a month of stalled decision- making. At a special meeting called a mere six days in advance, councilmembers heard presentations from Avant Garde, Buxton and Urban Futures before finally giving the go-ahead to Avant Garde representative Robert Paz. This was Paz’s third trip to the TC council chambers; the first time, councilmember Vizcarra requested that he come back with more detailed information. So he returned on March 17th, but it was discovered that no other companies had been told of the opportunity to make presentations, and consequently the special March 23 meeting was called in order to give the competition a chance to make their own bids. All but one interested company showed up—the absent party reported that they did not have enough notice to come prepared.

At the meeting, company spokespeople proceeded to present their proposals to the council in alphabetical order, allowing Avant Garde to go first; fitting, considering the number of unfruitful trips Mr. Paz had already made to Temple City over the past weeks. His presentation started out much like an economics class, as he offered the room a brief lesson in Keynesian economics and even introduced a mathematical formula. However, he soon switched from theory to practicality by outlining goals, areas of opportunity, methods of revitalization, and the importance of art. “Art slows traffic,” stated Paz, demonstrating that those who drive slowly down the streets, taking in the city, are more likely to stop and patronize local businesses.

Partner Ben Martinez followed Paz with an outline of Avant Garde’s plans for redevelopment. He talked of working with the city’s existing agencies to avoid any technical glitches, performing a financial analysis for the city, and assisting with or taking over existing projects along with new ones. “Robert and I have a history of starting projects, as they say, ‘from soup to nuts’” stated Martinez, who went on to explain that they had experience seeing projects through from beginning to end, as well as with inheriting existing projects. He also stressed that “the initial strategy is key to this process if and when we undertake it…there are a number of issues that need to be looked at: do you really want to expand your existing project area or do you want to look at a new project area altogether?”

Paz, a man with a penchant for quotes, closed the presentation with the words of John F. Kennedy: “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Lisa Hill with Buxton, a retail site selection service, presented next. She made it clear that Buxton was not in competition with Avant Garde or Urban Futures, but instead offered supplementation to any plan the city decided to embark upon. Essentially, Buxton takes local consumer data retrieved from credit cards, retail club cards, and a variety of purchases and then matches the city to retail stores and restaurants likely to be welcomed by the community. The starting cost of the service would range from $50-$70,000.

Last was Urban Futures, whose presentation was not quite as well-researched or polished as Avant Garde’s. The two representatives outlined a generalized 5-year implementation plan for economic development. They presented a long list of communities that they have worked with in the past, including Pasadena and Greenfield, CA. A nod was given to Buxton when one of the presenters revealed that the two companies had simultaneously worked on developing the same cities with great success in the past.

When all initial presentations were finished, some councilmembers wondered why none of the presenters were addressing specific locations, the unique situation of Temple City, or how much their respective services would cost, and gave the companies an opportunity to respond. This was where Avant Garde shone; Paz came out swinging with statistics and observations that clearly reflected his research. “You have 40% foreign born residents [of which] %75 come from Asia… 80% of your residents drive to work alone…on the corner of Las Tunas and Rosemead, you have two vacant lots, you have two gas stations, and that’s your strongest corner. That’s where you need to work and we are going to look at the Alpha Beta site, the Albertson’s, the K-mart, we do know those sites. We’ve been there, we’ve seen them…”, Throughout is speech, Paz demonstrated enough passion and ardency to make one believe that he spoke from the core of his being when he fervently announced, “I want this job.” He stated that the cost of their services would be a maximum of $10,000 per month.

Community members were also given the opportunity to briefly express their concerns, and about a dozen did so. Linda Payne, president of the Chamber of Commerce, expressed wonder and disappointment that none of the companies had been given copies of a detailed report that had been completed prior to the meeting. She stated, “We have a group of citizens in our community that has spent 8 months putting together a report that was asked to be done by council through the planning commission. We did communication, housing, open space, commercial…we turned in 3 parts, these reports should have been given to these people so they know what we want.”

Several Temple City residents complained that they have been trying to get a town hall meeting scheduled for a long time, and that they did not feel that the voices of the community were being heard as a result of the council’s failure to plan such a meeting.

With all speakers duly heard, the council proceeded to vote on what the next step for the city should be. All but Vincent Yu voted to go ahead and start negotiations with Avant Garde. Mr. Yu claimed that, although Avant Garde “did a really good job presenting,” it would only be fair to allow the company that was given too short of notice to present that day a chance to pitch their services at a later time. “It’s been 20 years,” he stated, “I think I can wait two more weeks.” He also noted that he has long thought that a town hall meeting should be in the works. However, with the rest of council determined to end the waiting, Avant Garde won their bid. The possibility for future work with Buxton remains, but it was agreed that the first step is to develop a plan.

What does this mean for the residents of Temple City? Well, probably nothing immediately. It will take some time to figure out priorities and decide on locations as well as specific businesses or housing plans. However, the wheels of revitalization have been gently pushed from the rut that for decades has stalled the development of the area, and are now presumably being steered in a direction that will benefit the economy and quality of life in the city.

By Nina Kathryn Hauptman

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