NORCO — Both Norco and neighboring Corona moved closer this week to realizing their plans for auto malls.
City Council members voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve general plan amendments, zoning changes and a master plan for the proposed Norco Auto Mall on Hamner Avenue, the city's main commercial thoroughfare, between 2nd and 3rd streets.
The Norco council also set a special meeting of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency for next Wednesday, to accept a bid for $7 million in bonds that will be used, in part, to buy land in the auto mall site.
Norco hopes that by selling the land to new-car dealers for less than its market value, and promoting its plan for public improvements and a coordinated architectural theme, it eventually will draw as many as 11 dealers to the proposed 88-acre mall flanking Hamner Avenue beside the planned Interstate 15 freeway.
Predicted Tax Income
That would boost the city's income from sales taxes by $1.5 million to $2 million a year, estimated Ralph (Bud) Plender, Norco's director of community development. The city has no new car dealers at present.
Already, though, three automobile dealers have agreed to negotiate for the purchase of sites in the auto mall, Deputy City Manager Ronald Cano said.
"We're climbing," Cano said. "I would expect within the next five years we'll have five to eight dealerships open or under construction. Our auto mall is a reality."
One of those negotiating for parcels is an Orange County-based Oldsmobile dealer, for whom Norco would be an additional location. The other two dealers--Hemborg Ford and Phillips Pontiac-Mazda--would relocate from their current sites in Corona, Cano said.
Corona city officials admit they are concerned with the prospect of losing two dealers, but stressed that the moves aren't final.
Corona Also Takes Action
"Corona's efforts to establish an auto mall are not dependent on having Hemborg and Phillips stay in Corona," said Bill Garrett, Corona's deputy city manager. "We hate to lose them, but it doesn't mean we are going to pack up our camp and go away."
Although Corona has not picked a site, the City Council, acting as the city's Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday night, authorized the sale of $4 million in bonds to develop an auto mall.
The money from the bond sale probably will be used, as in Norco, to buy land for resale to dealers. In Corona, however, the Redevelopment Agency's subsidy for land purchases is likely to be greater than in Norco.
That is because the most likely area for Corona to place an auto mall is on West 6th Street, next to the Riverside (91) Freeway, city officials say. Two dealerships--Toyota of Corona and Diller Chevrolet--already are located there.
"It makes good economic sense to build upon the two strong dealerships that are already on the west end of 6th Street," Garrett said. " . . . I think we can sell that area."
But because the area already is substantially developed, more city involvement would be required, possibly including lengthy condemnation proceedings. Also, land values will be higher than those for less developed areas.
Difference in Plans
The bond sale approved in Corona does not specify a source of repayment but calls for refinancing once plans for an auto mall are developed.
By contrast, Norco's plans for an auto mall are detailed in the "specific plan" that received initial approval this week.
The Norco Auto Mall plan, Plender said, divides roughly 100 acres between 2nd and 3rd streets into three categories: the 11 sites for new car dealers, an area for "accessory uses," such as auto repair or recreational vehicle sales, and a few small commercial tracts where existing buildings and uses are deemed compatible with the mall.
Buildings in the auto mall will share a common "California Spanish" architectural theme and a unified plan of landscaping, off-street parking areas and sidewalks. Hamner Avenue will be widened to include a landscaped median strip and six traffic lanes, but no on-street-parking.