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Stately High School, Now Closed, Attracts Suitors for Development

October 16, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

NORWALK — Perhaps no other site in the Los Angeles area looks more like a traditional high school ought to look than the closed Excelsior High School. It looks so right for the part that the movie "Grease II," as well as other films, featured the stately building.

But to a lot of other people, Excelsior High School is starting to look like something else.

To city planners, it looks like a redevelopment area that could generate more tax dollars.

To a flourishing church, it looks like the ideal place for a new sanctuary.

And to community leaders, it looks like the place to finally provide a permanent spot for civic and cultural events.

Long-Term Lease

Those visions were stimulated last month when the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District announced it would consider leasing the school on a long-term basis, preferably 50 years or more.

Because the spacious, 38-acre site is in the middle of an important commercial corridor, the city has long considered it for improvement and is now studying plans to include it in the city's second redevelopment project.

Meanwhile, Grace Korean Church has made no secret about its interest in acquiring the site--either by leasing for a long time or buying it.

The church has been renting the school auditorium and several smaller buildings for its 2,500-member congregation since 1984. Now the rapidly growing church--whose members live throughout the Los Angeles area--wants to expand to accommodate its growth.

Share Concept Discussed

Shin Cho, a deacon with the congregation that is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, said the church "is very much interested in a joint venture" with the city.

Discussions were held about a year ago between the city and the church to study a "shared" concept, in which the city would get the football field, auditorium and gymnasium and the church would build several buildings on the other side of the school. Those plans, however, were never finalized.

The 2,500-member church currently leases 40% of the site for $150,000 a year.

Although Cho said the church will work closely with the city on deciding what development should be on the site, church officials have long lobbied for a chance to build a 10,000-seat sanctuary.

Cho said he envisions the church renting half the site for 50 years, and building two sanctuaries and a seminary that would also be shared with the city.

Convention Use Foreseen

He said the buildings could be used as a "convention center" for worldwide members--and the city would reap the benefit from church members eating in Norwalk restaurants and staying in Norwalk inns. Cho said that when the church is not meeting there, the facility could be rented to the city or other organizations for large meetings or conventions.

"It would be a great benefit to the Norwalk community," said Cho, who noted that the church is now working on a proposal to submit to the school district.

City officials say it is too early to tell what will be on the site near Pioneer and Alondra boulevards.

Don Rouly, Norwalk director of planning and development, said the city has not made a decision about what it would like to see at the school. He said a study will be initiated in the next two months by the Planning Commission to discuss various uses for the site.

The commission will "be looking primarily from a zoning and land-use perspective," Rouly said. The property is zoned residential.

Church Interests Known

He said the city discussed with the church "concepts they would like to see done on the property," but the proposal never got past a preliminary stage.

"The church is a major tenant and we are aware of what their interests are on the site. Those are just a number of elements to be considered," during the commission's study, he said.

One of the major considerations for any development of the property will be monetary and community benefits, said Michael J. Wagner, city redevelopment director. "A lot of analysis has to go on before a final (decision) is reached," he said.

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency would look at certain criteria, such as the amount of sales tax, property tax and jobs to be generated by a redevelopment project. The use of facilities by the community would also be considered, Wagner said.

Although the city does not have definite plans for the property, Wagner is going to recommend that the Redevelopment Agency include the high school site in its second redevelopment plan, which will cover commercial areas along Pioneer Boulevard.

Extra 'Tools' Available

He said inclusion in a redevelopment area would give the city extra "tools" to attract the kind of development it would like to see on the site. However, the final decision rests with the school district.

"By putting it in a redevelopment area this time, there might be some advantages to developers," Wagner said. The agency could assist development on the site that would be beneficial to both the school district and the city.

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