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L. B. Port Official Skeptical of Plan to Build Rival World Trade Center

September 04, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

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.

The proposed Pomona trade center would compete with a $550-million world trade center already under construction in Long Beach. Ground was broken for that project last month.

Although the Pomona City Council has not taken final action on that city's 14-story tower, the plan has been approved in concept and 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.' "

Doubtful Market Exists

However, an official for the Long Beach Harbor Department, expressed 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.

"Economic areas can only support so many of these projects," he added. "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. ("World trade center" is an official designation given by a business association that links about 50 such centers around the world.)

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 an epicenter 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."

4.5-Acre Location

Pomona's Inland Pacific World Trade Center, which city officials said is expected to generate $30 million in tax revenue during its first decade of operation, would be located on a 4.5-acre site adjacent to the Pomona Civic Center and would include a 250,000-square-foot office tower, a 300-room hotel and a shopping center.

The complex would also house the Los Angeles Toy and Hobby Mart, which officials say would be the state's first mart dedicated solely to the marketing and exhibition requirements of the multibillion-dollar toy industry.

Like 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 Pomona proposal, 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.

City to Fund Garage

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 generated from the proposed 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)."

But Felvey said that the signing of a formal agreement was "just a technicality," adding that he thought the city had already placed its stamp of approval on the project.

Project 'Is a Reality'

"We can assure the council and everyone involved that it is a reality," he said.

The Inland Pacific World Trade Center, which is expected to be completed by the summer of 1988, could be the first fully operational world trade center among several others planned for the state, and would join about 50 other "officially designated" world trade centers operating around the globe, according to Thomas Kearney, chairman of the information and communications committee of World Trade Center Assn. in New York.

Six locations throughout California have received official designation from the association, but all are in the planning or construction stages, including the Long Beach project, the first stage of which is not expected to be completed until the fall of 1988.

A world trade center had operated in downtown Los Angeles, but had its designation revoked in 1983 because it had not maintained adequate levels of international business activity, officials said.

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