POMONA — A proposal to build a $90-million world trade center complex as part of an effort to revitalize the downtown has aroused increasing skepticism from City Council members.
Some council members have urged city administrators to take a cautious approach as they negotiate terms under which the city would provide some of the financing if the project is approved.
Concerns have also been raised by the director of planning for the port authority in Long Beach, where plans for a world trade center have already been approved, and real estate developers who question whether businesses would rent office space in Pomona.
H. Thomas Felvey, president of Urbanetics Inc. of Los Angeles, wants to build a 12-story office building with 220,000 square feet of rental space, a hotel, a theater for touring groups, restaurants, a product display area and an exhibition hall.
Under his proposal, the city would become a kind of business partner in the venture by paying for construction of a $13-million parking garage with 1,200 spaces, providing $1.5 million for a promotional campaign and obtaining a $5.2-million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Urbanetics said that it has spent $1 million of its own money for planning and attorney fees.
"There are some uncertain elements about the total project," said Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer. "I don't want an albatross in downtown Pomona."
Mayor G. Stanton Selby said he generally favors the project, "but I'm not going to sell the city out for it."
Felvey is undaunted by the newly raised concerns and still believes that Pomona is an ideal location for a world trade center.
He said the center will be an economic boon to Pomona. "The fiscal impact is rather extraordinary," Felvey said. "In the first 10 years, the city will reap $37 million in taxes. If they (city officials) acknowledge the fact that they're in the epicenter of the fastest-growing region in the country, something of this size will happen--whether today or tomorrow. They have to realize that they are part of an international environment."
Urbanetics said it hopes that office space will be rented by international trade brokers and companies seeking headquarters for heavy machinery manufacturers, electronics firms, high technology and aerospace industries, large warehousing firms and multinational companies.
Such business would attract law firms, insurance agencies and other ancillary services, the developer has said.
The company would like to build the project on what is now empty land as the cornerstone of an effort to reverse the decay that has plagued the downtown area for years. Urbanetics, a Los Angeles real estate development firm, is involved in the restoration of historic buildings in Los Angeles, including the old Broadway department store at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street and the former Pantages theater at 7th and Hill streets. The firm also has proposed construction of a $210-million world trade center in Oakland.
Last December the council gave Urbanetics the exclusive right to develop the 4.6 acres on the northwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Garey Avenue after the firm approached the city with its plan. Since then, the city's redevelopment agency and the developer have been negotiating the terms of a financial agreement.
The council, which is acting as the redevelopment agency for the project, is expected to decide in the next two weeks whether to extend the guarantee under which Urbanetics has exclusive rights to develop the land. In recent interviews, council members expressed concerns about the city's financial risk and the decision by a Dallas realty and investment firm not to help find some of the private financing.
The Dallas firm, Pacific Realty, informed the city last month that it would not take part in the project, although Urbanetics had hoped the firm would help find private financing. "We believe that the project has great promise; however, it does not fit well with our long-term corporate strategy," a Pacific Realty vice president said in an Aug. 13 letter to Mayor Selby.
"I guess I would have to say this is a temporary setback because the negotiations had gone farthest with them," Community Development Director Sanford A. Sorensen said. "But I don't think their lack of interest makes the project any less feasible."
"The heat's on Mr. Felvey now," said Nymeyer. "If he wants the project to go he's going to have to come up with the financing. The ball's in his court."
Felvey said the decision by Pacific Realty was not a financial setback and that negotiations with private investors will produce the necessary backing. He said he has other candidates, but he refused to name them.
"Pomona is a great location, but the problem is money," Selby said. "We don't want to overextend ourselves."
Councilwoman Donna Smith, the council's most vocal critic of the project, said she is worried about committing redevelopment funds to the project.