When Thrifty Drug and Discount Store had its grand opening here last week in the Lynwood Towne Center, there were lots of smiling city officials on hand and prizes for customers. Officials say the celebration was a long time in coming.
The discount store's opening marked the end of more than 15 years of little progress by the Lynwood Redevelopment Agency in bringing a major shopping center to this low- to moderate-income, predominantly minority city of 58,000. Latinos make up 43% of the population, blacks 35% and whites 20%.
"It has been a struggle," City Councilman E. L. Morris said in an interview before the opening.
Morris, 75, has served on the five-member City Council for 17 years, longer than any of other current members.
The council also acts as the city's Redevelopment Agency, which was formed in 1973. That same year, a redevelopment area was declared along Long Beach Boulevard, including the section that is now Towne Center.
Under state law, city officials can designate any part of town that is considered a slum or blighted as a redevelopment project area. Once that happens, the Redevelopment Agency has the right to capture the county taxes on any subsequent increase in property values. As the property is upgraded and new construction gets under way, the additional taxes--known as the tax increment--goes to the agency to finance subsidies or begin new projects.
The redevelopment area where Thrifty opened is a 10-acre site in the 13000 block of Long Beach Boulevard. It is bordered on the north by Imperial Highway, on the south by the Century Freeway--now under construction--and on the west by State Street.
Viva Market, a subsidiary of Boys Market, is under construction next to Thrifty and is scheduled to open in mid-July, said Jeff Armour, senior project manager for the center's developer, Hopkins Development Co. of Newport Beach.
The Towne Center project includes about 101,000 square feet of store space valued at about $11 million, Armour said.
In addition to Thrifty and Viva, at least 10 other businesses, including a video store, a linen shop, a shoe store and a fried chicken restaurant have opened or are planned, Armour said.
The area was once known as the city's downtown. During the mid-'70s, the Redevelopment Agency floated bonds and spent $1.5 million to purchase the small businesses and light industry that occupied the site. The buildings were demolished, but the land remained vacant.
The agency started negotiations with Hopkins in 1982, and final agreement was reached last year, Assistant City Manager Don Fraser said. The land was resold to Hopkins, also for about $1.5 million, Fraser said.
Had the land been sold on the open market, it probably would have brought four times that price. But redevelopment law allows agencies to sell at lower prices as a means of attracting developers, because the cities will eventually make up the difference and more from additional sales taxes, Fraser explained.
When the center is in full operation, the city estimates that it will receive $100,000 to $150,000 in sales taxes annually, he said.
In hindsight, the agency probably made a mistake by demolishing all the buildings on the land without first having a developer ready to proceed, Fraser said. The city lost several years' worth of sales taxes that it could have been getting from the existing businesses, he said.
While discussions with developers and feasibility studies continued, the land remained vacant until Hopkins started construction a little more than a year ago.
"The area was collecting weeds while the agency had studies done and hassled over who was going to be the developer," Councilman Robert Henning said.
But other factors also slowed the development process, officials said.
The proposed Century Freeway cut a path through the center of the city, causing the removal of thousand of homes. As homes were purchased and demolished by the state for freeway construction, a majority of the residents moved from the city.
Construction on the freeway, begun in 1982, also stopped for a number of years while officials worked out a settlement in a lawsuit over replacement housing. The freeway is scheduled for completion in 1993.
The uncertainty of freeway construction made developers leery about coming to Lynwood, Fraser said.
However, with a freeway entrance under construction about two blocks south of the Lynwood Towne Center, officials and developers are optimistic that the thoroughfare will bring in lots of shoppers, he said.
But Armour said the majority of customers are expected to come from within the city limits.
Hopkins officials are also optimistic that additional customers will come to the center if the city is able to develop an adjacent movie theater and office building, Armour said.
The agency has held preliminary discussions on the proposal with Arcon Developers of Huntington Beach, said Kenrick Karefa-Johnson, acting community development director.
"The theater would be great. People in Lynwood must now go to Long Beach or Cerritos to see a film," Karefa-Johnson said.
To further spruce up the 67-year-old downtown, the city early this year started a $400,000 facade improvement project for businesses across the street from the Towne Center.
Businesses on the east side of Long Beach Boulevard are eligible to apply for loans up to $50,000 at 6% interest for seven years from a local bank under the city-sponsored rehabilitation program.
"We are going in the right direction now. We are optimistic the new efforts will bring dollars into the city," Councilwoman Evelyn Wells said.