Monterey Park May Intervene, Buy Mall


City officials say they may have to issue $13 million in bonds to buy the Atlantic Square Shopping Center if the Long Beach developer responsible for its renovation fails to obtain a loan for the project by the end of the month.

Under a court-approved agreement, the city's Redevelopment Agency has until July 1 to condemn and purchase the aging shopping mall on South Atlantic Boulevard from its current owner, Milton Bilak.

With the deadline looming, the City Council has given developer Robert D. Champion several extensions as he struggles to obtain financing. On Monday, the council set April 29 as the cutoff date for Champion to get the loan.

If he fails to do so, issuing bonds may be the only alternative, city officials said. The bond issue would not have to be approved by voters because taxes would not be increased, Economic Development Director Keith Breskin said. Instead, the debt would be retired when the city sells the center to the developer ultimately chosen to handle the renovation.

The project already is far behind schedule; the original plan was to tear down the existing mall and build a modern, Mediterranean-style center by Thanksgiving, 1990. The Redevelopment Agency is spending up to $14 million on the $50-million joint venture.

But Champion, head of Long Beach-based Champion Development Inc., has missed several deadlines--including one that expired Monday--for getting a $29-million construction loan.

If Champion misses the "absolute" April 29 deadline, council members said, they will have no choice but to drop him from the project, buy the land, and choose another developer.

Mayor Betty Couch and Councilwomen Judy Chu and Marie T. Purvis voted for the extension. Councilmen Fred Balderrama and Sam Kiang opposed it, saying the 3 1/2-year deal has dragged on far too long already.

Kiang said several local developers with ties to Taiwan and Hong Kong have contacted him expressing interest in taking over the Atlantic Square project.

Couch suggested Kiang was trying to help his "friends and associates," which Kiang angrily denied.

Meanwhile, several residents vehemently opposed extending the loan deadline.

"Atlantic Square is a king-size, costly blunder," Phyllis Rabins said. "This is one of the dumbest plans around."

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