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Civic Center Mall Is Key to Norwalk's Growth, Study Says

March 09, 1989|RICK HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

NORWALK — A consultant has suggested a major development plan that would feature shiny office buildings and a large mall in the Civic Center area.

The plan, which would create an "urban core" capable of attracting business and shoppers from throughout the region, was described to the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday night as the best potential development strategy for Norwalk. The city last September contracted with Robert Charles Lesser & Co., a real estate management and marketing consultant, to perform the $50,000 study that yielded the strategy.

But the study also warns of emerging competition in the office space and retail sales markets.

"One thing is clear: There is an opportunity," said Robert J. Gardner, a partner in the consulting firm. "And that window of opportunity is not going to stay open forever."

The members of the agency, who are also City Council members, took no action on the findings. The study will be used for long-range, strategic planning, said City Manager Richard R. Powers. Like other area cities, Norwalk is trying to build its economic base to increase tax revenues flowing into city coffers and to provide more jobs and services for residents.

Powers said city staff will meet with members of the local business community to provide information about the study and seek their reaction. The development of a mall in one area of the city, for example, could attract business away from another area, the report said.

"The findings are significant in that Norwalk does have the potential for a major regional shopping center and office project--if that's what the community wants," Powers said.

Lesser & Co. bases its recommendation on projected growth in the finance, insurance, real estate and services industries. The study says that an average of 53,000 to 61,000 new jobs per year in those industries are expected to be created in Los Angeles County through 1995. New office space will be needed for those workers.

Norwalk's location--by the Santa Ana, Artesia, San Gabriel River and unfinished Century freeways--would make it attractive, the study said. The major urban centers filling the need for such office space are downtown Los Angeles, downtown Long Beach, the Torrance/Carson/suburban Long Beach area, and the Central Orange County/Anaheim/Garden Grove area, the study said.

"Although many urban cores have emerged throughout the county, no core has emerged between the area extending along Interstate 5 (Santa Ana Freeway), from downtown Los Angeles to Anaheim," the study said.

The study projected that Norwalk, if conditions were right, could fill 64,000 to 76,000 square feet of office space a year through 1995.

Norwalk started toward that with the development of the Norwalk Metro Center project in the Civic Center area, which will include 120,000 to 140,000 square feet of office space as well as a Sheraton Hotel, movie theater, stores, a restaurant and condominiums. About 225,000 square feet of office space are expected to become available for outside leasing later this year, when renovation of a Bechtel Corp. building near City Hall is completed, the study noted.

Gardner, the consultant, said it will take several years to fill that office space, about the time it would require to complete a new office project.

But the Lesser Co. study made note of emerging competition from the Cerritos Towne Center, which is under construction just south of the Artesia Freeway at Bloomfield Avenue. The Towne Center will eventually include 1 million square feet of office development, the study noted.

"At the moment, the office market here is in the formative stage," Gardner said. "It (Towne Center competition) is something we think can be overcome in time."

But to successfully enter the office market, Norwalk must create a regional presence. That can be best accomplished through the development of a modern regional mall, Gardner said.

Such a mall would be competing primarily with the Los Cerritos Center, the Lakewood Center Mall and the Stonewood Shopping Center in Downey.

Gardner said market studies indicate that by 1992 the area will be able to support at least one, if not two, additional major department stores that would anchor such a regional mall.

The consultant noted that the owners of Stonewood Shopping Center recently announced that they plan to enclose the 31-year-old, open-air mall and add another major tenant, a 150,000-square-foot May Co. store. "If other existing centers expand, that opportunity can go away," Gardner said.

The study said a new mall and office space should be concentrated to create an urban core around the Civic Center, which includes City Hall, the Southeast Superior Courthouse, a sheriff's substation and library.

Because of that, the study said, the Paddison Square shopping center, with its Montgomery Ward store, would be the most likely candidate to be expanded into such a mall. But the 26-acre site would have to be expanded to about 40 acres, which could be costly. The Civic Center is on the southeast corner of Imperial Highway and Norwalk Boulevard. Paddison Square in on the northwest corner.

New office development could be affected by the same problem; Norwalk is heavily developed and any new major projects would probably require the Redevelopment Agency to acquire occupied land. Such acquisitions could be prohibitively expensive and bring strong protests from property owners who do not want to sell. The Redevelopment Agency has condemnation powers in the area. State law requires the agency to pay property owners fair market value for any holdings it condemns for redevelopment projects.

The agency directors said they wanted to further study the implications of the study's recommendations.

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