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Planned Complex Would Lure Trade From China, Latin America


EL MONTE — An ambitious El Monte development planned for the former Longo Toyota dealership site would lure scores of manufacturing outlets from China and Latin America as well as local outlets, according to developers and city officials.

If all goes according to plan, the parcel on Valley Boulevard between Arden Drive and the Rio Hondo will be transformed into "Pacific Place," a combined manufacturers outlet, product testing ground, office complex and trading forum, said developer John Leung, president of the South Pasadena-based Titan Group.

"We would even line up spaces for warehousing of their product, interim office use, translation services, secretarial services," Leung said. "We're contemplating apartments and a hotel. What we want to make it is a complete marketplace for them to do business."

More than 60 clothing and consumer goods manufacturers from China have expressed serious interest in the project and have sent representatives to the San Gabriel Valley to discuss details, Leung said.

"We are somewhat strategically located in Southern California, with access to Mexico, South America and the Pacific Rim," Leung added. "We want China and Latin America to trade here. There's a well-developed transportation and communication system, and a market. I see this as a gateway to the American market."

Last December, the El Monte City Council approved the sale of the 4.8-acre city-owned parcel to the Titan Group, and the deal was finalized in June. Titan paid the city $2.5 million for the land and will pay an additional $3.1 million over the next 22 years, said redevelopment project manager Margarita Cruz.

The city also lent the developer $1 million in federal Housing and Urban Development money, she said.

City officials and the developer are also negotiating to purchase properties that abut the Longo site, said Planning Director Mark Persico.

The first phase of the project, construction of a 51,000-square-foot building and renovation of existing buildings on the site, was approved by the Planning Commission two weeks ago, he said. The Titan Group hopes to renovate the existing buildings into a festival marketplace, slated to open on Chinese New Year, which falls at the end of January. On Monday, the Planning Commission is expected to approve preliminary renditions of the marketplace prepared by Wayne Hunt Design Inc. of Pasadena, Persico said.

The firm was part of the team that designed signs for the Universal CityWalk, as well as the signs and graphics that define Old Town Pasadena, Hunt said.

The city views the project as the key to further development in an area that has generated little commercial interest in the past.

"This is the first significant project west of the Rio Hondo Channel. We see this as being a catalyst for all new development on Valley Boulevard west of the channel," Persico said. "Given the current economic situation in the Southland, people are being very cautious. Before we see any real interest, other developers want to see projects come out of the ground. And when this comes out of the ground, there will definitely be interest."

The recent business boom in China's growing private sector has placed much of Titan's emphasis on mainland manufacturers.

"The buyer could come in here without going all the way to China. We would offer the same (access) for Mexico or South America," Leung said. "We could have trade offices there. We will also have a facility for exhibitions, product showings, meeting areas, fashion shows . . . to keep the excitement going, with hundreds of manufacturers.

"This is an ambitious project, but we're hoping it will be one of the biggest projects in the San Gabriel Valley," added Leung, who said his group has been traveling to China almost every other month.

Leung added that other Pacific Rim countries will play a role in the project.

"We're looking at Indonesia and Hong Kong. But China is one of the largest producers in that part of the world, so obviously we're spending a lot of effort in it."

And why El Monte?

"We picked it because it's strategically located in an area where both Asians and (Latin Americans) are comfortable. Americans are just as comfortable there. And the key issue is also transportation," said Leung. The facility is close to Metrolink, two freeways, rail lines and the El Monte Airport, a good commercial access to Latin America, he said.

The Titan Group has been working with community redevelopment agencies throughout Southern California for the past 10 years, Leung said. It has developed residential property in El Monte and built the Edwards Cinema on Santa Anita Avenue and Valley Boulevard, Persico said.

El Monte is 72% Latino and 11% Asian, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Persico said the city's initial interest in the property was for a development that catered to Latinos. The Titan Group, however, has proposed an inclusive project that will not alienate any ethnic group, he said.

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