LONG BEACH — Proclaiming the Greater Los Angeles World Trade Center a landmark project for this city, the Planning Commission has approved first-phase construction of what developers say will be the world's second-largest international trade center .
"It's hard to overstate the importance of this project to the city," Planning Director Robert Paternoster told the commission, whose approval Thursday was the last required before construction of the $550-million, 2.7-million-square-foot center begins in June.
"It really sets the tone for the future economic development of the city," Paternoster added in an interview. "It really ties the port to the city and makes it clear that this is a world trading city."
The results are being felt even before ground is broken on the prime 12.7-acre site northeast of the junction of Ocean Boulevard and the Long Beach Freeway, he said. Already, Paternoster said, some Japanese trading companies that this city has long hoped to attract have moved here from Los Angeles.
In addition, the trade center--second in size only to the World Trade Center in New York City--will provide about 6,000 jobs during construction. When completed it will house job sites for about 15,000 workers and produce $5.5 million annually in property-related taxes, according to city and developer estimates.
Two Years of Construction
Construction of the $110-million first phase--a granite-and-glass, 27-story office tower and an open-air public plaza--should take about two years, with completion in the third quarter of 1988, developers say.
Lease commitments have already been made for about 13% of the tower's space, and strong interest has been expressed in another 14%, said Thomas D. Formica, president of IDM Properties Inc. Long Beach-based IDM Corp. is developing the project jointly with Kajima International Inc. of Japan on nearly six square blocks leased from the Port of Long Beach.
"The interest has been unbelievable when you consider we're in the pre-leasing stage," Formica said.
A 600-room hotel, the project's second phase, is expected to break ground next January with completion at the same time as the office tower, said David Ball, president of IDM's development arm. The hotel would cost at least $50 million, he said.
If all four phases of the $550-million project are completed, it would have two lower levels of shops and businesses, a landscaped six-acre public plaza on the roofs of the second level, four office towers of 27 to 35 stories and the hotel.
"It is a city within a city," Ball said.
Conform With Downtown
The exteriors of each of the buildings will be "light-colored" to conform with the rest of the downtown, said Ball. Light-brown exterior glass panels will be separated by blocks of beige, red-flecked granite, he said.
Located just north of the port, the World Trade Center is expected to house businesses such as customs brokers, international trading companies, ship agents, maritime attorneys and multinational banks.
The full project is scheduled to be built over a minimum of five years, but lease provisions allow for delays because of interest rates or other factors.
Of the 2.7 million square feet of floor space, about 1.95 million would be used as offices, said Ball. By comparison, downtown Long Beach now has a total of 2.1 million square feet of space in its larger, non-governmental office buildings.
Port planners and developers say the international trade emphasis of the center will pull many office tenants from other cities and countries, although a number of prospective tenants already have offices near Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors.
The hotel is not expected to be in direct competition with other downtown hotels, whose guests come mainly from tourism and conventions, said Ball. "We feel we'll hAve a businessman's hotel on a business site," he said.
Little Effect From Hotel Glut
As a result, the anticipated glut of hotel rooms downtown will have little effect on the trade center hotel, Ball maintained. Two hotel developers have cited the expected glut when canceling major projects this year.
The first phase of the trade center will include 455,000 square feet of office space in the tower, and 111,200 square feet in banks, shops, restaurants and a museum and trade education facility. On the top floor of the tower, a World Trade Club will accommodate business professionals during the day and be open to the public evenings, Ball said.
He said the first phase would be economically viable by itself. "It will meet leasing interest without overextending ourselves economically," Ball said.
Though enthusiastic about the project, city planners did require IDM to eventually provide about 2,000 more parking spaces than it had planned. That would bring total parking to 5,330 spaces, all in underground garages.
They also asked developers to restudy the columned Ocean Boulevard public entry to the center's main courtyard, which tHey said should be lowered to sidewalk level or redesigned to lure more people to public areas.
A completed World Trade Center would mark the end of three frustrating decades during which one developer after another gained city approval for a trade center, then failed to deliver.
Unlike many developers who preceded them, IDM and Kajima have proven track records. IDM, a large land developer locally, was one of the first to build in Long Beach's downtown redevelopment zone, completing a $15-million office building on Ocean Boulevard in 1983. Kajima is a subsidiary of one of Japan's largest construction firms.