WHITTIER — In a move city officials hope will end a two-year search for a redevelopment project for a key downtown area across the street from the Whittier Hilton, the Redevelopment Agency has agreed to accept a $20-million retail and office complex for the three-acre site.
The plan was approved Tuesday night after a presentation from the Vanderbilt Group, which proposed building a three-level complex to be called Penn Place. The center would include a five-screen movie theater, a major retail store, restaurants and offices, with a 480-space parking structure behind the complex.
Agency members were enthusiastic about the Vanderbilt proposal because it included both retail and office space in a block-long development that would complement the Hilton and help anchor the Uptown Whittier shopping area.
"It's as good a plan as we've seen," Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab said. "It would bring life to Uptown Whittier and that's what we're looking for."
File Cannon Plan
After approving the Vanderbilt plan, the agency voted to receive and file a plan to hire the marketing and consulting firm of D.T. Cannon & Associates to assist in arranging financing and tenants for the project. City Manager Thomas G. Mauk had recommended hiring the firm, owned by longtime civic leader Dave Cannon, but said it would be inappropriate to hire Cannon now because of the Redevelopment Agency's acceptance of the Vanderbilt proposal.
The 121,000-square-foot development would in clude 57,000 square feet of retail space on the first and second levels and 37,000 square feet of office space and a formal restaurant on the third level. Other food vendors would be near terraces and open courts planned within the project. A central glass elevator would carry customers to upper levels.
Agency members were pleased by the aesthetics of the Vanderbilt proposal presented to them in a series of colorful architectural drawings. The brick exterior of Penn Place would blend with the brown block construction of the Hilton and the brick of the neighboring Quaker City Federal Savings and Loan. Vanderbilt plans to use the existing slope of the site to provide street access to both the first and second levels. The entire center would face Greenleaf Avenue, disguising the parking structure in the rear.
Vanderbilt officials were optimistic about marketing the center, but also acknowledged problems for retailers in Uptown Whittier, which is miles from a freeway and has its main access from two-lane Greenleaf Avenue. In its written proposal, Vanderbilt said these problems could be overcome by soliciting "destination" retailers, such as large stores or a movie theater, whose business does not center on impulse purchases.
Another obstacle to developing the site has been the Uptown, a liquor store occupying 28,000 square feet of the block. Owner Vince Hayes has been reluctant to sell because he now owns the property and would have to pay rent in a new development. John Noble, president of the Vanderbilt Group, said he had not yet contacted Hayes, but that Vanderbilt was planning on the liquor store being part of the project.
After receiving assurances that Vanderbilt would be able to work with Hayes, the Redevelopment Agency agreed to enter into a 180-day exclusive right to negotiate with the developer to be followed by an option for two three-month extensions. During that time, Vanderbilt officials will try to get commitments from potential tenants, negotiate to acquire existing businesses on the block and arrange financing.
Vanderbilt President John Noble told the agency that his company will not be able to arrange financing for the project until at least 50% of the space has been pre-leased. The project also calls for a city subsidy, but Mauk declined to speculate on the amount until there is more information about how much sales tax revenue the city can expect to receive from the project.