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Meet the New Face of LA Streetcar, Inc

By Samantha Page
Published: Friday, January 30, 2009, at 03:37PM
Dennis Allen

Dennis Allen, new Project Manager for LA Streetcar, Inc.

Last Friday, Dennis Allen was appointed Project Manager for LA Streetcar, Inc., the newly-created non-profit charged with spearheading development of a streetcar for Downtown. On Thursday we sat down with Allen to get his perspective on the project, which backers hope to see in service by 2014.

Allen is still getting up to speed on the history of the streetcar initiative, but he was enthusiastic and eager to take on the challenges of what looks to be at least a five-year project that will end with a streetcar running up (or down) the newly renovated Broadway, looping through downtown to connect Bunker Hill and LA Live.

The next six months should bring determination of the streetcar's route. "It's important to identify that early on," Allen said, in order to move forward with other components of the project.

Allen comes from the development world and is fully versed in the intricate dance that moving forward all facets of a project like this entails.

He was involved in the Bringing Back Broadway Initiative early on as a representative from Kor (the developers of the Eastern Columbia Building at 9th and Broadway).

After leaving Kor, Allen was interested in finding something that had "more of a public spin." And, as he said, "The skill set of being a developer sort of translated into the streetcar thing."

One item high on Allen's new to do list is to take a trip to Portland for a behind-the-scenes look at its streetcar, which he rode several years ago on an unrelated visit up north.

"One of the things that really stayed with me," Allen said, "was how easy, how nice [the stops] were, how easily people could get on and off - it really created a sense of place."

According to him, at the time he was already thinking, "Hey, this is great, we should have one of these in Los Angeles."

To make that happen means starting at ground level with a non-profit, and raising about $100 million. Preliminary cost estimates through CRA put the figure at $90, but "that was last year," said Jessica Wethington Mclean, Executive Director of Bringing Back Broadway.

"One of the biggest things we have learned about streetcars this year is their effect on economic development," Mclean added. "What streetcars do, because they are on fixed rail, is they put a fixed asset on the street. That encourages people to invest in their buildings, because they know customers are always going to be able to come and be right there."

In Portland, the streetcar's initial $100 million investment has been estimated to have created $2.3 billion in economic development and revitalization in the area around the line.

And while no one is ready to make predictions about exactly what dividends LA's streetcar might bring, Allen's appointment shows exactly how seriously Downtown is taking the idea.

As Allen pointed out, "There is just something about the permanence of a streetcar that just changes the psyche of, I think, everybody involved."


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