LONG BEACH — The Redevelopment Agency is celebrating a long-awaited court decision that apparently paves the way for construction of the large International Plaza entertainment complex on the downtown Promenade.
The state appellate court ruling probably ends a 4 1/2-year legal battle between the agency and Long Beach Savings & Loan Assn., whose headquarters would be razed for the project.
A three-judge 2nd Appellate District panel affirmed a lower court finding that the city had properly reviewed the project's environmental impact before choosing a developer.
"We are thoroughly convinced that . . . the citizenry of the City of Long Beach had before them meaningful information to make informed decisions concerning the redevelopment of their civic center," wrote Judge Lynn D. Compton, author of the 37-page opinion that was issued Dec. 23.
An attorney for Long Beach Savings said he doubts his client will appeal to the state Supreme Court, where chances of a hearing are minimal.
Spokesmen for the Redevelopment Agency and project developer IDM Corp. said Tuesday that they intend to immediately firm up plans for the site, which is the block northeast of 1st Street and the Promenade.
"This project is critically important . . . because it's part of the 18-hour environment we're trying to create (downtown)," said Roger Anderman, agency executive director.
City officials have been concerned about the lack of activity in downtown after office hours.
'Elated' at Opportunity
David Ball, president of IDM's development arm, said he is "elated at the opportunity to get our hands back on that site."
But the International Plaza as finally completed in about four years probably will be different from the one IDM agreed to build in 1982, Ball said.
"We'll be responsive to the needs of Long Beach as they exist today and not as they existed five years ago," he said.
As first proposed in 1981, the $78-million International Plaza would have had six movie theaters, high-quality restaurants, a health club, an ice-skating rink and about 250,000 square feet of office space in two towers.
Ball said he thinks the market will still support the entertainment and retail aspects of the original plan but that the proposed office space might be replaced with moderately priced apartments.
Market Study Planned
IDM's own World Trade Center development and two other large office projects have raised doubts about the need for additional office buildings downtown, he said. That area has an office vacancy rate of about 20%, leasing firms report.
IDM plans to complete a new market study for the International Plaza site by midyear, but design will take about 15 more months and construction two years, Ball said.
Anderman said his staff is studying its 1982 agreement with IDM, "and we'll be advising the developer of their responsibilities. . . . Their responsibility is to build a project."
Anderman said he is not sure of IDM's deadline to submit its final design and begin construction. Ball said that when he spoke with Anderman Monday, they agreed there is no reason for more delay.
"The legal obstacle has been removed," agreed Deputy City Atty. Art Honda.
Henry Workman, attorney for Long Beach Savings, said that while a legal challenge to construction is possible, it is not likely.
A rehearing could be sought from the "Court of Appeals, but those are almost never granted," he said.
The Supreme Court grants hearings in civil cases only 2% of the time, but you must "convince them there is an important new question of law, which I doubt in this case," he said.
Sought to Void Contract
In its suit, Long Beach Savings challenged the IDM project, claiming that the city had not met state requirements when reviewing its environmental effects.
It sought to have the city's contract with IDM voided and the process of selecting a developer started anew. In that way, the savings and loan, which leases space in a building at 101 Long Beach Blvd., would have had a chance to undertake the project itself.
As a tenant, Long Beach Savings should have had been given preference over a developer not already on the site, its lawyers argued.
City lawyers said no such priority was legally required. It is given only to land owners and tenants who are on a site when a redevelopment project is begun, they said. The 421-acre downtown redevelopment zone was established in 1975, four years before Long Beach Savings moved to its headquarters.
Long Beach Savings officials were particularly angered because the city approved their $250,000 renovation plans in 1979, just two years before it requested development proposals for the site.