CERRITOS — To narrow the list of suitors for the lucrative Towne Center project, several council members will travel next month to Colorado, Wisconsin and Indiana at city expense to tour a series of shopping, office and hotel complexes built by some of the five firms still in the running for the $225-million Cerritos project.
At least three of the five council members and Asst. City Manager Art Gallucci will make the trips as part of the final selection process for a Towne Center developer, said John H. Saunders, the city's director of internal affairs.
The city has been looking for a developer of the 125-acre parcel northeast of the Civic Center for more than two years.
Negotiations last November between the council and the Alexander Haagen Co.--the city's first choice to guide the project--collapsed, prompting a second search for a developer.
Because of a stronger economy and more favorable interest rates, about 30 firms expressed an interest in developing part or all of the Towne Center site--the so-called Golden Triangle formed by Bloomfield Avenue, 183rd Street and the Artesia Freeway.
Although Saunders said "nobody has been eliminated," the council last month whittled the list to five--General Growth of Canoga Park, Donahue and Schriber of Costa Mesa, Tishman West of Orange, Transpacific Development of Los Angeles and Tutor-Soliba of Sylmar.
Saunders said the council decided to tour the various projects developed by those in the running for the Towne Center site to get a "better feel" for their work.
Councilman Daniel Wong agreed, saying, "It's one thing to look at their proposals on paper--the financial statements, concepts and list of past projects. But it's another thing to go and walk through their projects. The Chinese have a saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' "
In addition to the out-of-state trips, council members will visit developments in Orange and Los Angeles counties and also in Oakland.
Exact dates of the trips, the cost and who is going has not been determined.
Councilman Alex Beanum said the council is in agreement that the city should pay for the trips.
'Conflict of Interest'
"It would be inappropriate for the developers to pick up the tab. It would be a conflict of interest, plain and simple," said Beanum, a engineering consultant who is not going because of work commitments.
"This is a proper use of city funds. It's a small investment" compared to the total cost of the development, he said. "This is not a junket per se. It's more a hardship on the council members who have to take time off work and away from families."
Council members say developing the Towne Center site--which is to include a 400-room hotel and convention center, a mall with three major department stores, a 600- to 750-seat theater and seven office buildings--is still the city's top priority.
Two years ago, the city spent nearly $40 million to buy the 125-acre site, one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in Los Angeles County.
The city has spent an additional $8.6 million to widen Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street and to install curbs, landscaping and waterfalls at the entrances to the site and around the perimeter of the property.
Saunders said so far only three of the five finalists--Tutor-Soliba, Transpacific and General Growth--have submitted concrete proposals for the Towne Center project. He said the council will tour projects developed by those three firms sometime next month.
The council will visit three of General Growth's regional shopping malls, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Evansville, Ind., and Appleton, Wis.
In addition, they will go to Oakland to view a 100-acre shopping and office built by Transpacific and will tour several office buildings built by the firm in Orange County, including a complex on Teller Avenue near John Wayne Airport and one on Anton Boulevard near South Coast Plaza.
In Los Angeles, the council will see several office, commercial and hotel projects by Tutor-Soliba, including the new Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport and a new hotel in Manhattan Beach on Rosecrans Avenue near Aviation Boulevard.
Decision Expected in May
The council had hoped to make a final selection by March 1, but Saunders said it now will be May before any decision is made.
This will not be the first time the council has traveled outside of California to inspect a development.
A year ago, the council went to Tucson, Ariz., to walk through a regional shopping mall built by a Cleveland builder, Forest City Dillon, Inc., one of the firms under consideration at the time for the Towne Center project. The council also drove to San Diego and Manhattan Beach to see sites developed by Haagen, which eventually won council approval.
All the trips, including approximately $750 in air fare to Arizona, were paid by the city.
Haagen lost the Towne Center project when the Manhattan Beach-based firm was unable to reach an agreement with the city on how profits from the project would be divided.
The council is still undecided whether to select one master developer for the entire project or hire several firms to build portions of the project.
Beanum said Tutor-Soliba and Tishman West are interested in developing the whole site, while Transpacific and Donahue and Schriber are interested in the office buildings and hotel. General Growth, one of the finalists a year ago when Haagen was selected, specializes in commercial and retail centers.