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Drive Begins to Build Auto-Racing Complex : Development: Plan calls for a $200-million track and research center on the border of Long Beach and Signal Hill.

July 28, 1994|JOHN POPE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The founder and promoter of the Long Beach Grand Prix is seeking to build an auto-racing track and research complex at the Long Beach-Signal Hill border, and has received an enthusiastic response from the councils of both cities.

Christopher R. Pook's $200-million proposal, called Transwest Park, would bring a 1 1/4-mile oval racetrack, 110 acres of automotive research and development facilities, and a hotel to an area dotted by oil rigs and weeds.

The track would host four major auto races a year, some smaller events such as vintage car shows, and provide a test site for the research center. Pook said he hopes to lure former aerospace engineers to develop safer cars, stronger body compounds and cleaner fuels, and conduct other automotive research projects.

Pook said the complex would create 13,000 permanent jobs and bring more than $1 billion a year to the regional economy.

After Pook unveiled his proposal last week, Long Beach City Council members directed the city's redevelopment agency to study his plan, and the Signal Hill City Council asked its city manager to do the same.

"I think the proposal is pretty awesome," said Long Beach Councilman Les Robbins. "If we can create this many high-paying jobs, generate this much revenue and clean up what is probably the most blighted property in Long Beach and Signal Hill, it is something worth pursuing."

Signal Hill Councilwoman Sara Hanlon said the idea is exciting, but she expressed concerns about noise and traffic problems for nearby Signal Hill residents. The proposed track location is just south of the San Diego (405) Freeway, between Orange and Walnut avenues, on several parcels of land in Long Beach and Signal Hill.

Pook said that the sunken land and bowl shape of the proposed track and strategic sound barriers will keep noise levels down.

from exceeding those of the nearby freeway.

He has enlisted seven companies to build, manage and finance the Transwest project, including the North Carolina-based J. A. Jones Construction Co., one of the nation's leading construction firms, with annual worldwide contracts of about $10 billion.

Pook's firm, Automotive Safety and Transportation Systems, would lead the development. According to the proposal, Transwest would be financed mostly by private investors, with city agencies providing some money to help buy the property and improve some of the infrastructure.

Preparing the ground for construction, including cleaning up the soil and consolidating the active oil wells, would take about two years, Pook said. Building the complex would then take about six to eight months, he said.

In 1975, Pook founded the Long Beach Grand Prix, the city's largest revenue-producing event. It attracts more than 200,000 racing fans each year and generates $40 million to $60 million for the local economy.

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