LYNWOOD — City Council members said this week that they are confident they have persuaded Montgomery Ward officials to reverse a previous decision to close their store here.
But representatives of the Chicago-based retailer say that although negotiations are under way, no commitment has been made.
"The store will not close. We (the council) have got the store to agree to stay," Lynwood Mayor Robert Henning said in an interview Wednesday.
Councilman E. L. Morris said that a "verbal commitment was made to keep the store in operation" during a special Friday meeting between the five-member council, sitting as the city's Redevelopment Agency, and representatives of the store.
The council voted unanimously to "do what we can to help them stay," Henning said.
Both Morris and Henning said attorneys for the store--the largest retail outlet in Lynwood--and the city's attorney were instructed to draw up a written agreement. That agreement apparently could include the city providing some type of financial aid, as well as helping to advertise the store within the community.
Ward representatives were also told that the city expected to build a shopping center on the Redevelopment Agency's land next to the Ward store that would bring additional customers into the area. The Ward store is at 31000 E. Imperial Highway.
A spokesman for the retail chain said he could not confirm whether a decision had been made to keep the store open.
"It is a little too early to make a comment," said Charles H. Thorne, media relations manager for Montgomery Ward in Chicago. "There are preliminary discussions going on, but nothing has been finalized."
Attorneys for both sides "are at the talking stage," Thorne added.
Ward announced on Jan. 2 that it would close the 12-year-old outlet on March 1 for economic reasons.
Inadequate Return Cited
"The company has been unable to make a satisfactory return on its investment with this store," Bill Herrmann, vice president for the retailer's Southern California territory, said at the time of the announcement.
The special meeting on Friday was called by the council, sitting as the Lynwood Redevelopment Agency. Scheduled agenda items included closure of the store and one other unrelated matter. Although the posted agenda stated that the Ward issue might be held in closed session, the meeting remained open, City Clerk Andrea Hooper said in an interview. She said the meeting was held in a conference room rather than the regular council chamber.
Hooper, who did not attend, said no tape recording was made of the meeting, and the clerk's office did not take notes. She said that E. Kurt Yeager, the city's attorney, told her he would provide information to the clerk's office on what took place at the meeting.
Yeager could not be reached for comment. Henning said it was an "oversight" not to record or take notes of the public meeting.
Among those attending was Bernard Lake, manager of the Lynwood Chamber of Commerce. Lake said that others meeting with the council were Herrmann and Richard C. Donavin, Ward's executive director of real estate.
"I was elated at the outcome of the meeting. The store will stay open with certain agreements," Lake said.
No Comment on Details
But those attending the meeting refused to discuss details of what the council offered.
"We were asked by Ward not to discuss it at this time," City Manager Charles Gomez said.
Henning, though, said that the council discussed providing Ward with financial aid to "absorb some of the store's financial losses." The council has also discussed placing store advertising flyers in the city's monthly newsletter to residents, Henning said.
"They were concerned that many residents were not completely aware that store was there," Henning said.
Morris said an agreement could be presented to the City Council at its regular meeting on Tuesday. But Morris and Henning both said the city would make no commitments without public hearings.
Morris said that, at the Friday meeting, store representatives were informed of the city's planned redevelopment of the area next to the Ward store.
"I don't think that the powers in Chicago were aware of our redevelopment planned for the area near the store. That redevelopment will enhance Ward," Morris said.
Negotiations With Developer
The city is negotiating with Hopkins Co., a Newport Beach firm, to develop a 10-acre shopping center at the southwest corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Imperial Highway. The proposed Lynwood Towne Center project would include a supermarket, drugstore, an auto parts store, other retail stores and a restaurant, Morris said.
City officials are expected to meet with the developer, Stephen Hopkins, perhaps by the end of the month to work out details and agreements on the proposal, said Vicente Mas, acting director of the Redevelopment Agency.
It was important to the city, Henning said, "to prevent the store from closing. This town would become a ghost town if the store closed."
He said the store puts about $160,000 in sales taxes into city coffers each year. About 75 full-time and 130 part-time employees are work at the store, according to the store's Chicago headquarters.