POMONA — After nearly a year of uncertainty, developers say they now have the financing to construct a $90-million world trade center in downtown Pomona and plan to break ground in January.
Although the City Council has not taken final action on the proposed 14-story tower, the plan has been approved in concept, and city officials say they have been waiting only for assurances from the developer that financing is in place.
Birtcher, the 10th largest development firm in the country, has secured financing for the project and already has launched a "full-blown" marketing effort to fill the 1-million-square-foot complex, according to H. Thomas Felvey, a developer affiliated with the Orange County-based company.
"If the city says the ball is in our court," Felvey said, "then we're telling the city it's a go."
However, an official for the port authority in Long Beach, where ground was broken on a $550-million world trade center last month, continues to express doubt that the Pomona project can succeed.
"I just don't think there is a strong enough market out in Pomona," said Lee Hill, director of planning for the port. "I'm still very skeptical."
Hill added that he was concerned that, if the Pomona project were successful, it would compete with the Long Beach center.
"Economic areas can only support so many of these projects," he said. "I really think that ours is in the right location here at the port."
Felvey, however, argued that Pomona is an ideal location for a world trade center and said that the 2.2-million-square-foot Long Beach complex should be viewed as a sister project based in a separate economic area.
Pomona's proximity to freeways, rail lines and Ontario International Airport make it a natural focal point, he said, and as one of the fastest growing regions in the country, the Inland Empire could become a center for international trade.
"I'd rather build 1 million square feet in downtown Pomona than 1 million square feet in downtown Los Angeles," Felvey said. "We literally have no competition out here."
The Inland Pacific World Trade Center, which city officials say is expected to generate $30 million in tax revenue during its first decade of operation, would be located on a 4.5-acre site next to the Pomona Civic Center and would include a 250,000-square-foot office tower, a 300-room hotel and a retail galleria.
The complex also would house the Los Angeles Toy and Hobby Mart, which officials say would be the state's first complex dedicated solely to the marketing and exhibition requirements of the multibillion-dollar toy industry.
Similar to a central market or commercial strip, world trade centers operate under the philosophy that concentrating international firms in one building will attract more business activity to the region.
Felvey said he hopes that office space will be rented by international trade brokers and companies seeking headquarters for heavy machinery manufacturers, electronics firms, high-technology and aerospace industries, large warehousing firms and multinational companies.
Under the plan, the developer would pay $500,000 for the city-owned property at the northwest corner of Garey Avenue and Mission Boulevard. Felvey said he already has placed a non-refundable $25,000 deposit on the land.
In return, the city has agreed to pay for construction of a $13-million underground parking garage with funds from the Pomona Redevelopment Agency, and will finance a $1.5-million promotional campaign to be funded by taxes expected to be generated from the hotel, said Sanford Sorensen, director of community development.
As part of the deal, the city already has obtained a $5.2-million loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be used to help finance the project, Sorensen said.
Those terms were solidified in an Oct. 29, 1985, memorandum of agreement between the redevelopment agency and Felvey that also stated Felvey's exclusive right to develop the property. The non-binding memo expired on March 18 but has continued to serve as the guideline for negotiations, Sorensen said.
"It's an idea whose time has come," said Mayor G. Stanton Selby. "And we're ecstatic the idea is coming to Pomona."
However, some council members have cautioned that without a formal pact between the city and the developer, the project is still tentative and should be viewed with skepticism.
When asked if he shared the optimism expressed by Selby and the developer, Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer said only, "I will share their optimism when we sign (the final agreement)."
Councilwoman Donna Smith, initially a vocal critic of the project, said that she could not approve the plan until questions about commitments from future tenants and financial backers are answered.
"We're not just going to say yes," Smith said. "We have to sit down with a fine-tooth comb."
However, Felvey said that the signing of a formal agreement is "just a technicality," adding that he thinks the city had already placed its stamp of approval on the project.
"We can assure the council and everyone involved that it is a reality," he said.
Similarly, Councilman Vernon Weigand conceded that the project had no guarantees, but said that he saw no obstacles to its final approval.
"We for a long time have known what it is and for a long time have given the developer . . . sole rights on the land," he said. "I don't know what in the world would keep it from going through."