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Business owners to give block a new look

(ran West edition)

If some business owners have their way, people won't recognize the 5600 block of Park Boulevard.

Property owners on the north side of the street are considering a plan to renovate their buildings' facades at one time with the city's help.

There are eight buildings on that side of the street. They house small businesses such as a custom rug maker, electronics company and the Suncoast Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, which serves meals to homeless people. The Times owns a building it uses in its circulation operation.

Seven of the property owners have met and expressed interest in the plan, proposed to them by Peter Aluotto, director of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

"When they left the room, they all sounded like they were going to go through with it," Aluotto said.

A renovation is likely to make the vacant building at 5663 Park Blvd. attractive to potential tenants, its owner, Mary Gennari, said.

Her husband, Tom, operated Tom's Park Billiards in the building for 27 years, she said. When he retired, another billiards business used the space, but that closed two years ago.

"It's been empty so long," Mrs. Gennari said. "We'd like to see something happen there."

Real estate agent Rick Butler, who owns 5635 Park Blvd., said the block will flourish because all of the property owners are interested in making improvements.

"I like it because we're trying to do it as a unified force," Butler said. "There is a lot of potential for the owners out there."

Plans are in the early stages and no schedule has been set for the project, Aluotto said. The property owners are scheduled to meet again July 31 to discuss details of what can be done.

The buildings would have a common design, Aluotto said. Butler said he hopes the owners adopt a 1950s architectural theme.

"They've got to harmonize," Aluotto said.

The work would be done through the redevelopment agency's commercial facade improvement program. The business owners would cover a share of the costs. For most facade improvements, the city will reimburse up to $2,000. Businesses on a corner can get as much as $4,000.

In this case, the city would pay for more than facade improvements, Aluotto said. It would pave an alley behind the buildings and build a parking lot. It also would cover the cost of architectural designs.

Aluotto said the 5600 block was chosen in a push toward redevelopment because it historically has been the center of the city.

If completed, the improvements to the 5600 block would be one of the largest renovation projects since the city's economic redevelopment district was formed in 1981.

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