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157-Acre Carson Site Is Acquired by Developer

March 18, 2004|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County developer said Wednesday that it had agreed to pay a reported $30 million for a star-crossed former landfill in Carson that remains in the running as a site for a pro football stadium.

Newport Beach-based Hopkins Real Estate Group, best known for neighborhood retail projects, hasn't decided what it will build on the vacant 157 acres. But President Steve Hopkins said that a stadium for a National Football League team was an option. It also may be developed with stores or other commercial uses, he said.

The property, southeast of the interchange of the San Diego and Harbor freeways, was operated as a landfill by Cal Compact Inc. until it closed in 1964. It has been owned by several would-be developers since then, but none ever succeeded in building on what is now one of the largest undeveloped parcels in Los Angeles County. Among the recent plans was a massive factory outlet center to be called L.A. Metromall.

Hurdles to construction included the estimated $30-million to $50-million cost to clean up toxic waste on the property and a series of lawsuits, some of which blamed oil companies and cities that dumped trash there for contributing to pollution.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Real estate deal -- A headline on a Business section story Thursday erroneously said that Hopkins Real Estate Group had acquired a 157-acre parcel in Carson. The transaction is in escrow.

The lawsuits have been resolved, said Ron Winkler, Carson's general manager for economic development, and Hopkins is willing to take on the cost of cleaning up the site and preparing it for construction.

"It's kind of a gamble," said Hopkins, who opened a one-year escrow with the seller, the Southern California and Arizona Glaziers, Architectural Metal & Glass Workers pension fund.

He plans to evaluate previous plans for the site to determine what type of development might work best. The next step would be to file an environmental impact report.

Several potential tenants have expressed interest in moving to the site, said Winkler, including Costco, Wal-Mart and movie theater chains. The National Football League also has talked to the city about possibly building a football stadium there, he said.

The NFL has been working to bring pro football back to Los Angeles and the Carson property is one of three sites being considered for a stadium.

"There are three sites basically involved -- the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and Carson," Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos, said this week. "I wouldn't point to any one of those three and say that they've got a distinct advantage at this time. But they're all talking [with the NFL], and that's very encouraging."

An NFL stadium is only one of several proposals for the site that have come up through the years. Among them have been a mobile home park, an auto dealership, a high-rise hotel and condominiums. Hollywood deal maker Michael Ovitz grabbed headlines in the late 1990s with a proposal to build a Mission-style football stadium and shopping mall that he hoped would be the cornerstone of a resort destination with the appeal of Universal Studios.

Other colorful personalities played parts in potential development there. Former Carson City Councilman Walter "Jake" Egan went to federal prison after being convicted of demanding payment for a vote to OK a mobile home park on the site. The development was planned by Orange County fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty, who later spent two years in federal prison for mail fraud unrelated to the Carson deal. Egan's conviction was overturned in 1988.

Former Irvine savings and loan owner Robert Ferrante -- who said he was the victim of a Mafia hit when a hooded gunman shot him six times in 1982 -- was poised to become a partner with Ovitz. But Ferrante ended up pleading guilty to participating in a kickback scheme that defrauded the pension fund in a case that involved a San Diego-area housing project. (He has since attempted to withdraw that plea.)

"There's been some bad history and some bad karma," Hopkins said Wednesday. "Even though there were some false starts in the past, we think the timing is right now."

For Hopkins, the purchase is its second in Carson in as many years. In 2003, it bought SouthBay Pavilion for $34.4 million and said it would spend as much as $20 million to upgrade the 30-year-old mall situated across the San Diego Freeway from the former landfill.

Current Hopkins projects also include the New Whittwood Town Center in Whittier and Redlands Mall in Redlands.

Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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