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Project Means New Future for GM Site

Business: $100-million development is expected to bring shops, multiplex, police substation and 2,000 full-time jobs.


PANORAMA CITY — The site of the long-idled General Motors plant, once a symbol of the region's economic decline, will be reborn as a commercial development with retail stores, a theater complex, a police satellite station and an industrial complex, according to an agreement announced Monday by GM officials, city leaders and developers.

The developers can expect tax breaks similar to those offered to the DreamWorks SKG studio in Marina Del Rey under a set of incentives recently outlined by the city's Economic Development Incentive Task Force, according to city officials.

Although no tenants for the proposed development have been announced, sources say negotiations are underway with businessman and basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson to open a movie theater complex in the development.

The $100-million project, which is expected to create about 2,000 full-time jobs, will include 300,000 square feet of retail space along busy Van Nuys Boulevard and 520,000 square feet of light industrial space at the rear of the property. In the midst of the development will be a 3,700-seat movie theater complex and a 24,000-square-foot police substation employing about 100 patrol officers.

GM will retain 27 acres of the 100-acre facility for a vehicle emissions testing center.

Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with completion of the project scheduled for summer 1997.

Once one of the Valley's largest employers, the GM plant and the economically depressed community that surround it have come to symbolize the downturn in the local economy since the plant closed its doors in 1992, putting 2,600 people out of work.

The development agreement, which has been in the making for several months, is the result of a cooperative effort between a Woodland Hills-based partnership, GM and city officials.

Mayor Richard Riordan took a key role in the negotiations by assigning Rocky Delgadillo, one of his top staff members, to ensure the project's success.

Selleck Properties of Woodland Hills, a firm whose partners include actor Tom Selleck, his father and two brothers, teamed up with Voit Cos., the firm that led much of the Warner Center development, also in Woodland Hills, to put the project together.

Selleck Properties will develop the retail portion of the project, while Voit Cos., will handle the industrial element.

Both developers declined to say how much they are paying for the 68-acre portion of the site, but a private brokerage previously appraised the entire 100-acre lot at $25 million.

City officials have offered a package of incentives to make the project more appealing.

City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents the district in which the plant is located, said the city has assigned a "case manager" to ensure that building permits for the project are not bogged down in City Hall red tape. Alarcon said he met 20 times with the developer to help make the deal.

City officials have vowed to use local and federal funds to improve streets and street lighting in the area. They have offered a 50% reduction in fees for sewer hookups.

In addition to city tax breaks, the GM property is located within the so-called "revitalization zone," a designation created after the 1992 riots to provide state tax breaks for businesses that employ local residents.

Alarcon and the developers agreed that key to the development is construction of the police substation due to gang and crime problems in the surrounding neighborhoods, particularly in the notorious Blythe Street neighborhood.

As part of the deal, GM donated five acres for the police substation.

Alarcon said the city has not committed the estimated $5 million to build the substation. He said he will consider several funding options for it, including tapping redevelopment money from an emergency redevelopment project that was established around the GM plant after the Northridge earthquake.

"The station is an important element because of the crime rate, particularly on Blythe Street," Alarcon said.

Daniel F. Selleck, a partner in Selleck Properties, said the police visibility created by the substation will be a selling point as he tries to attract tenants.

Selleck said he has no signed agreements for tenants but that he envisions attracting several national chain stores.

He described the retail development as an "open-air power center" possibly including a department store, a toy store, a clothing outlet, restaurants and a home improvement store.

The agreement signals the latest and most optimistic development in the long-playing drama to reemploy the plant that closed in August 1992 after producing 6.3 million cars over a 45-year period.

GM shuttered the aging plant and moved its manufacturing to Canada in part because of the lower cost of shipping parts from its Midwest suppliers.

GM officials said they tried to sell the land with the auto manufacturing plant intact but found few firms interested in reemploying the aging facility.

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