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Diverse Uses for Norton Air Base Planned When It Closes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Norton Air Force Base, the biggest employer in San Bernardino, might be developed into a high-tech center with an amusement park and satellite campus of UC Riverside when the military closes the post in 1994, an agency made up of local officials decided Wednesday.

Closure of the base will eliminate more than 10,000 jobs--5,264 of which are filled by local civilians. But the developer selected Wednesday to guide the base’s transformation said as many as 10,000 new jobs could be created.

Many details remain to be worked out, but the Inland Valley Development Agency, which includes representatives from San Bernardino County and the cities of Colton, Loma Linda and San Bernardino, gave tentative endorsement to a plan for the 2,003-acre base submitted by Norton International Partners.

The partnership, headed by Los Angeles developer Iddo Benzeevi, said its plans for the base include a high-tech research facility, as well as a sports center. The amusement park would be designed by George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame, the developer said.

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Benzeevi proposed a similar plan for the city of Moreno Valley several years ago, but it was nixed because of opposition from nearby March Air Force Base. His partner in the Norton venture is developer Ray Watt, chairman of Santa Monica-based Watt Industries. The pair has been assisted by Bechtel Enterprises.

The local agency--which was created by state law--voted Wednesday only to negotiate exclusively with the Benzeevi partnership on a redevelopment plan for the base, which is located east of downtown San Bernardino. A formal contract will be voted on next week, with most details of the huge project to be decided later, said chairman Robert L. Hammock, a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

Originally, the agency received a dozen proposals from would-be developers of the base. A consultant narrowed the field to four finalists, then on Monday a panel of 11 citizens recommended the Benzeevi partnership.

In addition to the lost jobs, Norton’s closure will force about 1,900 reservists with the 445th Military Airlift Wing to move to March Air Force Base in Riverside. The rest of the wing’s 3,300 members will transfer to McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma or leave the reserves. The wing’s flight crews have flown more than 100 volunteer missions for Operation Desert Shield.

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Norton is one of two San Bernardino County air bases due to close in the 1990s. No decision has been made on the future use of the second, George Air Force Base near Victorville.

The city of Adelanto and a joint powers agency representing other cities both have designs on the desert land at George.

Times staff writer Jenifer Warren contributed to this story


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