After a month of sometimes bitter debate over the permitting process for a planned $264.2 million town center project in Glendale, Calif., Los Angeles-based developer Rick Caruso can begin work immediately on The Americana at Brand — a mixed-use development that will include 475,000 square feet of upscale retail shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.

In a surprising move, the Glendale City Council unanimously voted April 27 to change a city charter provision that would have let property owners with at least 20 percent of adjacent or nearby frontage — in this case, General Growth Properties — object to a zoning change proposed by Caruso to build his Americana at Brand complex. This decision means General Growth, owner of the Glendale Galleria across the street from Caruso's proposed center, and anchor tenant Robinsons-May have apparently lost their battle to block the project, and replace it with one of their own.

The Chicago-based REIT could still file a lawsuit, however, challenging Caruso's Environmental Impact Report, and try to stop the project on those grounds. But community support backs the Caruso plan and it appears likely Caruso has won the tug-of-war. General Growth officials didn't return phone calls.

General Growth was relying on Councilman Frank Quintero to back its petition for the City Charter change. The councilman had opposed an aspect of the project's design that calls for closing portions of two streets, as well as the terms of the business deal agreeing to convey 8.5 acres of the 15.5-acre site to Caruso. The city has agreed to absorb the estimated $62.6 million cost to assemble the site, according to Mark Berry, a Glendale official who is overseeing development of the property.

Plans for Revival

Caruso's open-air lifestyle center will replace a blighted, underused area on the south side of the central business district (CBD). It includes the retail/entertainment portion as well as 338 residential units, situated around a 1.85-acre park. The city estimates the project will generate nearly $47 million in sales and property tax revenue over 30 years, as well as 2,500 construction jobs and 1,756 permanent jobs. “It will create an atmosphere in a corner of downtown that gives more luster to the city and will help to keep Glendale people from going to Pasadena to shop, and draw people from outside to the city to shop and dine,” says Glendale Mayor Bob Yousefian.

General Growth favors the concept of a town center in Glendale, but it wants to be the one to build it. It presented an alternative plan last fall, long after the city's October 2000 deadline for RFPs had passed, Rick Caruso's company, Caruso Affiliated Holdings, had already been selected and the developer had sunk $5 million and three years into planning the enterprise, according to Philip Lanszafame, Glendale assistant director for development services. General Growth's plan called for 121 more residential units than Caruso's, but 20 percent less retail space.

General Growth has 30 days to file a lawsuit, says Gillian van Muyden, Glendale's assistant city attorney. “The clock is ticking,” says van Muyden.