In what shapes up as one of the largest San Diego County land acquisitions by an industrial user in recent years, aerospace manufacturer General Dynamics said Thursday that it is in the process of buying a 60-acre parcel north of San Diego, large enough to accommodate a 1-million-square-foot complex of research and industrial buildings.
Company spokesman Jack Isabel confirmed late Thursday that the General Dynamics Electronics Division is in escrow to purchase the property, but he declined to discuss details, including what and when General Dynamics plans to build, how much it will spend on the facility or how many employees will be working at the new complex.
The land is in the 4S Ranch Business Park, part of a massive 3,600-acre development in unincorporated San Diego County about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego. The property, situated just west of San Diego's Rancho Bernardo suburb, is owned by the Ralphs family, founders of the 120-store chain of supermarkets of the same name. The family sold its interest in the supermarkets in 1969, however.
General Dynamics' Electronics Division primarily makes testing equipment used for military aircraft, including the F-16 jet fighter, the B-2 Stealth bomber and the C-17 cargo plane, which is under development. The division also makes aircraft radios. Exactly what the division will make at the new facility was unclear Thursday.
In addition to its Electronics Division, General Dynamics also has Convair and Defense Systems divisions in San Diego, which manufacture Tomahawk cruise missiles and Atlas rockets. With 17,500 employees in San Diego, General Dynamics is the city's largest industrial employer, spokesman Isabel said.
General Dynamics' purchase of the property is expected to close by the end of this year, sources said. The developers recently received permission from the county to combine several industrial pads, or lots, to make the 60-acre parcel, sources said.
Word of the impending purchase comes at a time when General Dynamics and other local defense manufacturers are expecting significant cuts in the federal defense budget, cuts that are bound to affect San Diego's economy and payrolls.
At its new location, General Dynamics will have several large manufacturers as neighbors. The 4S Ranch Business Park, now under construction, is next to Rancho Bernardo Industrial Park, where companies including Sony, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, Unisys and Norther Telecom operate huge plants.
The 4S Ranch has been in the Ralphs family since 1938, when Albert Ralphs, son of the supermarket chain's founder, bought it as a family recreation area. His grandson Tom Ralphs has spearheaded the family's efforts to develop the property since 1979. He received approval in 1984 from the county to develop 634 acres of the property, with the rest set aside for development at least until after 1992.
Ralphs, 42, and Bob Hallock, 43, the general partners in the 4S Ranch development, declined to comment on the General Dynamics deal, saying only that a 60-acre parcel in their business park is in escrow. They did discuss their plans in general for the $100-million first phase of development at 4S Ranch, saying the business park component will total 180 acres, enough for about 3 million square feet of research and light-industrial space. They said they also plan to build up to 500 housing units in the first phase.
Ralphs and Hallock said they have already sold 90% of the lots in the 180-acre business park to users, including Hawthorne Machinery, Alcoa, Reliable Tool and Trammell Crow.