POMONA — A major department store firm has expressed interest in developing a regional shopping center in southwest Pomona, but city officials this week declined to give the company exclusive rights to negotiate for the project.
May Centers Inc., which owns the May Co. and Robinson's department stores, has contacted the city requesting exclusive rights to negotiate to build a shopping center containing "four or five" large stores on 72 acres near the junction of the Pomona Freeway and Corona Expressway, City Administrator A. J. Wilson told the City Council at its meeting Monday night.
Wilson advised the council, however, that before the city grants exclusive rights to May Centers, the firm must abandon its negotiations to build a similar complex nearby in San Bernardino County. May Centers has apparently agreed to this condition, he said.
On Wilson's advice, the council authorized city staff to send a letter to the firm, giving it until July 11 to offer a specific development proposal.
"In the meantime, we are taking all expressions of interest," Wilson said. "And we are getting a number of them."
Mayor Donna Smith said the company had been "playing both ends against the middle" by expressing interest in both shopping center projects in an attempt to strengthen its bargaining position with Pomona. The city will not tolerate such tactics, she said.
Crucial to City
"We're playing hardball," Smith said. "We're just as good as any other community. . . . I'm glad they're coming to negotiate and not just to play games."
The regional shopping center project has been viewed by Pomona officials as crucial to the city's efforts to increase its sales tax revenue.
Wilson said that a market clearly exists for a regional shopping center to serve residents of southwest Pomona and Diamond Bar.
"I think there's going to be a major shopping center in that area," Wilson said. "Our job is to make sure it's in Pomona and not Chino."
But Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant said his colleagues were being unduly optimistic about the project, because Pomona's attractiveness as a site for such a center is undermined by problems such as gang activity and drug dealing. The city must first spend more money to deal with those issues, he said.
"All the wishful thought in the world is not going to mean a thing if we don't clean up our culture," Bryant said.
Councilwoman Nell Soto agreed that the city needs to solve its crime problems, but that such solutions require the money that the shopping center would provide. Developers should be willing to build in Pomona because it has not tried to restrict construction as have other area communities, she said.
"The slow-growth situation that's taking place all around is certainly going to benefit us," Soto said.