HAWTHORNE — An Arizona firm has unveiled preliminary plans for a 450-acre redevelopment project that would cost in excess of $100 million and require relocating about 8,000 people, according to city officials.
Although the proposal's backers say the project would mean 3,000 new jobs and generate $1 million in sales tax revenues for the city, the proposed relocation is attracting criticism.
"They are talking about relocating 8,000 people. That is almost 14% of the population," said City Treasurer Howard Wohlner. "It will cost millions. It is asinine even to consider it."
The centerpiece of this development is to be an expansion of the Western Museum of Flight, which opened about a year ago in a renovated hangar at Hawthorne Municipal Airport.
The proposal would enlarge the museum beyond the theme of airplanes to encompass aerospace and surround it with a pavilion of international exhibits, five hotels, restaurants, offices and buildings housing light industry.
Behind the proposal is a development group known as Signature One Inc., which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Although no detailed information on the company was available, its clients, according to the firm's literature, include Motorola, Honeywell, Fairchild Camera and Instrument, Intel and Ramada Inns.
"Western Flight Museum--The Home for Aerospace in the Western USA. City of Hawthorne revitalized--The Only Global Community for Aerospace--And, a Whole Lot More! A World Showcase Effort," the Signature One proposal reads.
"Time is of the essence."
Signature One's involvement grew out of efforts by city officials and the Southern California Historical Aviation Foundation to expand the flight museum. The foundation, the parent organization of the museum, is supported by 1,500 members, many of whom work in nearby aerospace plants.
In March, Signature One signed a contract with the aviation foundation to find a new setting for the museum and began holding a series of quiet meetings, perhaps two dozen in all, with individual members of the City Council and top city staff, according to Signature One President Katherine Collard.
Signature One came back with a preliminary version of the most ambitious redevelopment proposal ever presented to the city. City officials who have studied the plan say it would mean bulldozing 297 acres of residential area surrounding the western side of the airport. Bud Cormier, assistant redevelopment director, said the city estimates that about 8,000 people live on the site.
The plan was made public last week when Signature One asked the Planning Commission to designate areas north, west and south of the airport as survey sites to determine whether they are blighted. The commission deferred action on the request and will reconsider it Aug. 6.
A determination of blight is the first step toward the establishment of a redevelopment area, in which the city has enhanced powers of condemnation and financing. Cormier said determining blight in a residential area is not an easy process and would probably involve a building-by-building survey.
He added that the city deliberately stayed away from residential areas when marking out redevelopment areas--which would be incorporated into Signature One's main project area--along Imperial Highway and El Segundo Boulevard east of Hawthorne Boulevard and west of Prairie Avenue. The airport is already included in a redevelopment area.
In addition to criticism about relocation, Planning Commissioner Barbara Workman said she is bothered by the tone of the proposal.
"The brochure is so filled with hyperbole it makes you want to gag," she said. "They think (the proposed project) is the greatest thing since French fries, sex and sliced bread."
Signature One President Collard said Signature One is not trying to oversell the proposal.
Referring to the drawing power of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, she said, "Our plan would be to create something comparable to that, which certainly is not hyped. . . . We can assist Hawthorne in upgrading their image and giving them one they can be proud of."
5 Million Visitors
Collard said in an interview that the museum and international exhibits would draw 5 million visitors a year who would each spend an average of $20 in Hawthorne.
She said the cost of the museum and pavilion would be about $100 million, but that cost estimates for the hotels, offices and industrial buildings and relocation benefits are not available. In addition, she said, precise financing proposals had not been worked out.
For the city, the visitors would mean a $1-million annual addition in sales tax, which now amounts to about $5.6 million.
In addition, Collard said, the museum and pavilion facilities would employ 1,000 people and another 2,000 would be employed in the other areas.
"This will be a major blessing, in my opinion, in the city of Hawthorne," she said.
"You can relate it to what Disneyland did for Anaheim. You can relate it to what Fontana did. Disneyland first approached Fontana and they turned it down. They obviously didn't gain the benefits."
Responding to concerns that the project would displace thousands of people, she said, "I sure hope we don't meet a lot of opposition. . . . We have no interest in coming in and displacing residents without solutions that are timely."
But, she added, the museum needed an appropriate setting now lacking in the area. "We can't have a museum in the middle of blight," she said.