NORWALK — Towering above an aging strip of shops and a neon-lit Arby's fast-food restaurant, a gray mill with several silos stands as a reminder of the city's roots in dairying and farming.
The Coast Grain Co., at the corner of Firestone and Pioneer boulevards, which processes and stores dairy feed, is one of the last remaining outposts of the dairy industry that thrived in the city up until the 1950s.
With a steady decline in the number of farms and dairies in the Southeast area, the business--which has been operating since 1937--will be moving to greener pastures in Ontario. Its scheduled Nov. 1 departure will open the way for a $6-million shopping center at the busy intersection.
The Redevelopment Agency will consider an agreement at a 5 p.m. public hearing today that would see both the mill and the Norwalk Shopping Center razed.
Under the agreement, Newport Beach-based Hopkins Development Co. would build a 10-acre shopping center with a 77,000-square-foot supermarket and 50,000 square feet of retail space for smaller stores, said Jeff Armour, Hopkins project manager.
Bigger Facility Sought
The grain company initiated the move about a year ago because it needed a bigger facility and wanted to be closer to dairies in Ontario and Chino, said Rhona Weinberg-Gewelber, vice president of Coast Grain.
Weinberg-Gewelber, who is the granddaughter of founder Adolph Weinberg, said the company was "being strangled" in Norwalk because of limited space that hampered its efforts to expand.
"Our business was going very strong," she said, despite being surrounded by housing tracts and businesses.
But transportation costs were high and company officials realized that "we are out of place," she said. Coast bought out an Ontario grain firm last December and has been gradually moving equipment and supplies. The new operation will allow the company to triple production to 35,000 tons of dairy feed a month. "We will be more competitive being there in the marketplace," Weinberg-Gewelber said.
The mill will close Friday and the corporate offices across the street will be phased in at the new facility over the next two months, she said.
The shopping center project, one of the first in the city that will displace business tenants since the redevelopment plan was adopted in 1984, was hastened by the voluntary departure of the grain company, city officials said. A smaller project for a 25,000-square foot commercial center by New Frontier Enterprises on Firestone Boulevard near San Antonio Drive will also displace a few tenants, including the Norwalk Twin Theater, said William Nevius, assistant redevelopment director.
"There comes a time in the life of a business where you've got to move," Nevius said, referring to the grain company's decision to leave Norwalk long after the demise of dairy farms and related uses. "There was an opportunity through redevelopment to relocate. It's a normal move in the life cycle of a business."
Notices will be sent in September giving tenants 90 days to move and demolition is scheduled to begin within a month after the last tenant leaves, Nevius said. He said construction is expected to begin in May and the center is to be completed by March, 1988.
Besides the grain company and Arby's, the site is now occupied by several hair salons, Le Pante Beauty College and several small stores, including J.J. Newberry and Lang's Stationers.
Nevius said the agency will contribute $590,000 for relocation assistance and demolition costs to the developer. The agency will also pay $550,000 toward the purchase of the property.
Alpha Beta, Smaller Stores
The proposed center will contain an Alpha Beta supermarket and several other stores that will range in size from 1,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, Armour said. He said Hopkins Development--which has redevelopment projects in Lakewood, Lynwood and Bellflower--is now discussing plans for some of the current tenants to move into the new center.
The Norwalk Shopping Center has been "limping along" ever since sales volume plunged in the last several years because of the departure of an Albertson's grocery store and a Crocker National Bank, Nevius said. The city expects to receive about $190,000 in annual sales tax revenue from the new center, he said.
Nevius said the layout of the center has also contributed to its decline. The shops are built along a narrow strip, with two lanes of parking in front and most of the parking in the rear where it is not readily apparent to most of the passing motorists. Many of the stores are vacant and the backs of the buildings have been defaced with graffiti.
Preliminary plans for the new center call for the developer to build the stores toward the rear of the property, with parking close to the two boulevards.
Kurt Anderson, assistant planning director, said the existing center is typical of those built during the 1950s and that the property can be put to better use. In a city that is about 90% developed, Anderson said, redevelopment projects like this one are a key to sprucing up the city.
"It's a nice piece of property. By incorporating the Coast Grain company, we can do a nice shopping center that will draw people from the entire community," Anderson said.