Cerritos, Developer Agree on $130-Million Towne Center

Times Staff Writer

The city has reached a tentative agreement with a Torrance-based company to build the first phase of the Towne Center development, a $130-million undertaking that officials predict will create 4,420 jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy over the next century.

Following months of negotiations, city officials announced this week that Transpacific Development Co. will erect a 400-room luxury hotel, several restaurants and a series of office buildings with more than 1 million square feet of space across from City Hall at Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street. The center will take nine years to complete, according to Assistant City Manager Art Gallucci, and still must be officially approved by the City Council at its March 20 meeting.

December Construction Start

Construction on the hotel and the first office buildings is scheduled to begin in December, said Gallucci, the city's lead negotiator on the Towne Center development.

It will spread across 48.5 vacant acres of what is known as the "Golden Triangle," formed by Bloomfield, 183rd and the Artesia Freeway. The entire site, one of the last major undeveloped parcels in southeast Los Angeles County, is about 125 acres.

The city purchased the entire parcel in 1982 for $38.6 million. But officials had trouble securing a developer for the project until last summer, when two firms, Transpacific and General Growth of California, were chosen to shape the project from the brush-covered plot in the heart of the city.

Shopping Mall Planned

Negotiations are continuing with General Growth to build an upscale shopping mall on the site, anchored by three or four department stores. But Gallucci would not discuss specifics of those talks, saying only that the negotiations "are behind schedule." And he left the door open to a possible switch in developers for the shopping mall.

"It very well might happen if the two sides can't agree," said Gallucci, adding that he expects a decision on the future of General Growth's participation in the project by the end of this month.

The city's Redevelopment Agency also plans to develop a chunk of the site, building a 400- to 500-seat community theater on 8.8 acres. The cost of the theater could run as much as $20 million, although there are no specific plans.

When the entire Towne Center development is complete, city officials predict, it may be worth at least $225 million.

'Long Time Coming'

"It has been a long, long time in coming," said Gallucci, referring to Transpacific's end of the project. "This will go a long way to ensure a strong financial future for Cerritos."

Despite Gallucci's enthusiasm, the project has become an issue in the April 8 council election. Fifteen candidates, including three incumbents, are vying for three seats.

Several challengers contend the council has been slow to develop the site, while others worry that the proposed Towne Center shopping mall will hurt business at the Los Cerritos Center. Some even suggest that the council timed the announcement of the Transpacific deal to boost the reelection chances of Mayor Diana Needham and Councilmen Alex Beanum and Barry Rabbitt.

Rabbitt denied the allegation. "If anyone wanted it completed quicker, it was me," he said. "I wanted it wrapped up a year ago. But with a project this massive, it can't be done overnight."

Details of the Transpacific agreement are contained in a 500-page document, which is nearly five inches thick.

The agreement calls for the city to lease 48.5 acres to Transpacific for 99 years. In return, Gallucci said, the city will receive a large portion of the ground rents as well as bed and sales taxes. During the first 20 years of operation, he said, the project should generate $102 million in income for the city. At the end of 50 years, the city will have received nearly $585 million from the development.

When the lease expires in 2085, the city will get back all of the property and the buildings, Gallucci said.

What Project Includes

Transpacific will build the project in stages beginning in December and continuing through 1996. It includes:

- A series of office buildings with more than 1 million square feet of space. The buildings--a combination of glass and polished granite--will range from two to eight stories. The shorter buildings will be clustered along Bloomfield and 183rd Street, with the taller structures near the hotel in the center of the site.

- A $21-million hotel, which will be built in two phases. The first 200 rooms, as well as banquet and conference rooms that will accommodate up to 800 people, should be under way by early next year. Another 200 rooms will be added in 1994.

To speed construction, the Redevelopment Agency will give Transpacific a $5-million interest-free loan. The agency will also give Transpacific $750,000 a year to subsidize hotel operations until the facility begins turning a profit. In exchange, the city and its various service organizations will be given priority for use of banquet and conference facilities on a specified number of days, which has yet to be determined.

- About 32,000 square feet of restaurants, which will be scattered throughout the project. Construction of the restaurants is not scheduled until December, 1988.

Richard Plummer, director of acquisitions for Transpacific, has called the project "one of the largest undertakings in Southern California. We are going to build Cerritos what it has been missing--a real downtown, a focal point for the city."

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