Azusa courting Porto’s Bakery, businesses ahead of Gold Line opening

By Melissa Masatani, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

POSTED: 03/09/15, 3:03 PM PDT

With the Gold Line expected to open next year, Azusa officials have started outreaching in an effort to attract new business to its downtown and Azusa Pacific/Citrus College stations, including the newest outlet of the wildly popular Porto’s Bakery & Cafe.

The council has been hearing presentations on transit-oriented development and soon will begin clearing the land for a four-level parking structure north of the railroad tracks on Azusa Avenue. The city also is “proactively” seeking out the Cuban bakery, with city officials, council members and chamber of commerce leaders holding an exploratory meeting with Porto’s employees on Monday.

“Even a very preliminary meeting is a testament to where Azusa is going,” Councilman Angel Carrillo said. “That (Porto’s) would be a grand slam in anyone’s book for economic development.”

Restaurants and bakeries are a big target, as Azusa looks to build a more pedestrian-friendly downtown district. The city offers a series of incentives for new and existing businesses around its utility company, Azusa Light & Water, and is hoping to work with retail and housing developers to fit in with the area’s specific plan.

“We are looking for a bakery for the opening of the Gold Line,” said Kurt Christiansen, Azusa’s economic and community development director. “We’re interested in bringing new business into the city, and if it’s working with them on fixtures or loans, we’ll definitely look into that.”

While other bakeries, such as Panera Bread, 85C and La Monarca, have been mentioned by several council members and staff, the meeting with Porto’s is the city’s first specific discussion with that type of business.

Porto’s, which draws lines to its three Los Angeles locations — Burbank, Glendale and Downey — has been in talks with West Covina to open near Plaza West Covina mall. The deal has a deadline of March 23 for the city to commit to a partnership.

“If West Covina doesn’t jump on it, we will do everything we can for them to see the advantages of coming to Azusa,” Councilman Uriel Macias said.

The city is beginning to see an increase of interest from housing developers as a result of the coming Gold Line, Councilman Edward Alvarez said, adding that he wants to keep downtown similar to its current setup of ground-floor businesses with second-story residences.

But dining is the big focus, he noted, as several surveys have shown residents are looking for a greater variety of restaurants in the city, such as chain restaurants or a steakhouse. Carrillo agreed, saying locals often ask for an Olive Garden or a Claim Jumper, but he wants to help existing restaurants succeed.

“We have a lot of homegrown restaurants that are just looking for the opportunity to expand,” Carrillo said. “Aldolino’s (Italian restaurant at Arrow Highway and Cerritos Avenue) is the perfect example of a good restaurant that would benefit from the increased exposure of expanding to the downtown area.”