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Task Force Calls for Creation of L.B. Auto Mall

August 20, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Warning that the city is in "serious jeopardy" of losing millions of dollars in sales taxes, a task force told the City Council this week to begin developing an auto mall immediately before local auto dealers leave.

Departure of the auto dealers would cost the city $2.8 million in sales tax revenue annually, the task force said.

The new auto mall tops the list of recommendations by the council's task force on retail and auto sales.

In a report to the council Tuesday, the task force, composed mostly of business representatives, also strongly suggested that Long Beach "become more aggressive in retaining and attracting retail business." The task force suggested adding a city staffer who would be an ombudsman for the business community.

Long Beach has become a "significant net exporter" of retail sales tax dollars to neighboring cities with major malls, such as Lakewood Center Mall and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, the chairman of the task force, Thomas D. Formica, told the council. And Long Beach will lose more tax dollars if it doesn't do something to prevent at least seven auto dealers now on Long Beach Boulevard from moving elsewhere, Formica said.

Council members greeted the report enthusiastically and forwarded it to City Manager James C. Hankla for review.

"If the stores and merchandise they (residents) want were available," Mayor Ernie Kell said, then Long Beach residents would shop in the city.

Among other recommendations, the report suggested::

- The city's Planning and Building Department should speed its project-and-permit process.

- The city should explore development alternatives for "key under-utilized areas," such as the downtown Sears site where the report proposed a neighborhood retail center;

- The city should assist owners of Los Altos Center, Bixby Knolls Center, Marina Pacifica, Market Place and Seaport Village in expanding and modernizing those facilities;

- Officials should address concerns about lack of quality retail goods in neighborhood stores in Bixby Knolls and the Eastside.

These and other steps should help retain sales tax dollars, the largest controllable source of revenue available to the city, according to the task force.

Lakewood Center Mall is the primary shopping area for all residents of the city, according to the report. In a 1985 ranking of 61 regional shopping centers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, South Coast Plaza was first, producing about $4.1 million in annual taxes on retail sales for Costa Mesa. Lakewood Center Mall was fourth, producing taxes of about $2.4 million annually. Los Altos Shopping Center ranked 34th, bringing Long Beach about $780,000 in taxes annually, and the Long Beach Plaza ranked 42nd, generating about $590,000 per year in revenue for the city.

The Los Altos mall is the best retail site in Long Beach for a smaller version of a regional mall--one that doesn't have a major department store such as Nordstrom or Sears Roebuck & Co, the report said. But some of the mall's tenants would have to move. The task force recommended that the city become an "active player in condemnation and relocation of existing tenants."

With a different mix of shops, the Los Altos mall could increase its combined sales from the $78 million it brought in two years ago to nearly $160 million, according to the report. The annual increase in sales of $82 million would mean another $820,000 in sales tax revenue to the city.

Of primary concern to the task force is the potential loss of tax dollars if Long Beach doesn't act to prevent more than half a dozen auto dealers now on Long Beach Boulevard from moving elsewhere.

"We feel it is critical that the city address that subject immediately," said Formica, executive vice president of the Newman Brettin Properties development firm. "If we lose our car dealers--and the tax increment they bring--it will be a disastrous blow for the city."

For the past two years at least seven auto dealers on Long Beach Boulevard have been talking of leaving for a proposed mall in neighboring Signal Hill. The dealers say they have been looking elsewhere because of the high crime rate and other problems along the boulevard and because they see better sales opportunities at auto malls.

If the dealers go, the city would lose $1.4 million in sales taxes and another $1.4 million in sales taxes from revenue resulting from repairs and the sale of auto parts, according to the report.

In the end, everyone would suffer because the reduction in revenue "would seriously jeopardize the continued provision of services to the citizens of Long Beach," the report says. To keep the dealers in the city, the task force is recommending that an auto mall be created at Spring Street and Orange Avenue, with the Los Altos Drive-in and two other sites--on Temple Avenue and Willow Street--as alternatives.

The task force also is recommending that Long Beach Boulevard, from 7th Street to Wardlow Road, be declared a redevelopment area and that a master plan for the corridor be developed.

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