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Signal Hill Plans Enclosed Auto Mall to Lure Dealers

May 01, 1988|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

Car buyers will be able to shop for wheels, have lunch, get their hair cut and purchase seat covers--all in one spot--under a plan to build the country's first all-enclosed auto mall in Signal Hill.

Officials of the small oil city are forging ahead with plans to begin building by January, 1989, a five-level car-shopping mall, which would feature a promenade with restaurants, a beauty salon, a convenience store, an auto supply shop and possibly a dry cleaner.

Meanwhile, neighboring Long Beach is quickly moving to catch up and build its own, more traditional, auto center.

Committed $100,000 to Study

Last November, the Long Beach City Council committed $100,000 to study the feasibility of forming a redevelopment area for an auto center. At the time, six dealers agreed that they would not talk with any other agency about possible moves.

That agreement will expire May 10, leaving the local dealers free to negotiate with Signal Hill. But dealers said Long Beach officials have asked them to extend the agreement.

Two of the six dealers who signed the agreement said in interviews last week that they are ready to sign another agreement. Three others who had signed expressed optimism about the Long Beach proposal but were noncommittal on whether they will sign a second exclusive contract. Two other Long Beach dealers who did not sign the agreement said they are negotiating with Signal Hill exclusively.

In the end, the two cities may have auto malls less than half a mile apart, representatives from both municipalities say. But whether both cities can garner the millions of dollars in sales taxes they envision, dealers say, depends on a number of variables, including which city completes its project first and whether Signal Hill's enclosed concept will work.

So far, there is no dispute between city representatives that tiny Signal Hill, a 2.2-square-mile city, is ahead of neighboring Long Beach, which has 50.22 square miles.

Signal Hill has acquired most of the 18 acres it will use around Cherry Avenue and Spring Street through long-term leases or outright purchase, said Robert J. Cristiano, a general partner in the Newport Beach-based Auto Center Group that is developing the project. The city is in escrow for the remaining land, he said. City officials also have tested the soil, hired a contractor to clean the contaminated areas and ordered demolition of buildings on the site, Cristiano said. Drawings of the mall are complete and a model is displayed in a City Hall conference room.

Long Beach, Cristiano said, has "tremendous hurdles to overcome."

Testing the Land

Officials in Long Beach said they are testing the land for their development to determine how much of the approximately 80 acres is contaminated and what it would cost to clean it.

About half of the land belongs to the city and the other half has various owners, said Roger C. Anderman, Long Beach community development director. The Long Beach mall would generally be bounded by the San Diego Freeway, Willow Street, Walnut Avenue and California Avenue and would be home to about 10 dealerships.

Anderman and City Manager James Hankla declined to release details about the Long Beach project, saying a recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency within the next 30 days.

"We wish Signal Hill well with its project. We intend to proceed with our project," Hankla said.

"Eventually, there will be a mall in Signal Hill and one in Long Beach," said Hankla, who conceded that "they're a little bit more advanced than we are."

Signal Hill officials say they are more than just a little bit ahead.

"We're probably about a year ahead," said Ceil Cirillo, city of Signal Hill project manager.

For the string of dealers now operating along Long Beach Boulevard, moving is imperative. The dealers complain of deteriorating neighborhoods that surround them, increasing crime and what they said is the final blow to their businesses: the Los Angeles-to-Long Beach light-rail line being built on the boulevard. They see a mall that brings dealerships together in an attractive setting, much like the successful Cerritos Auto Square, as the solution to their plight.

To Long Beach, keeping the dealers is just as crucial. If the businesses leave the city, they will take with them an estimated $2.8 million in sales taxes, according to a city task force on retail and auto sales. With an auto center of 10 dealerships, the city could expect about $8.4 million in sales taxes a year, the task force reported.

To Signal Hill, a city that relies heavily on sales taxes, getting an auto mall is just as important. Cirillo estimated that the auto mall with a nearby truck center would bring in $2.5 to $3 million annually.

This is not the first auto-mall proposal Signal Hill officials have put together. Originally, they planned a conventional outdoor center in a much larger area. Three years ago, the city even had tentative agreements with six Long Beach dealers.

Land Contaminated

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