Tierra Luna isn't what we expected

On Nov. 6, 1958, Downey mayor Scott Temple fired off a letter to Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. The Dodgers had just relocated to Los Angeles from Brooklyn and were playing their home games at the Coliseum until a permanent stadium could be secured. "The City of Downey, with a historical background dating back to California's Civil War Governor, John Gately Downey, is a community of 100,000 citizens ready to proudly support the Dodgers," Temple wrote in his letter to O'Malley. "Located only 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, Downey will soon be surrounded by freeways providing quick and easy access from all sections of the Metropolitan Basin.

"With the cooperation of the Downey Board of Realtors, The Downey Chamber of Commerce, and the Citizens of Downey, we are happy to submit an excellent location for the permanent home of the Dodgers," Temple continued. "Options have been secured for 55 acres of land, properly zoned, with access to all freeways."

The Dodgers never came, of course, and Dodger Stadium opened at Chavez Ravine four years later.

But wow, was Temple swinging for the fences or what?

Downey may have struck out with the Dodgers, but the consolation prize wasn't so bad. North American Aviation used the site to begin production of the Apollo command module and by the 1960s Rockwell International boasted more than 30,000 employees. The entire 160-acre property is steeped in NASA history.

With the collapse of the aerospace industry, the city purchased the land from the federal government about a decade ago. The property's northern half was developed into the Downey Landing shopping center, while the southern half became home to Downey Studios, the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the Kaiser Permanente hospital and Discovery Sports Complex. As it turns out, Downey Studios was a massive failure, losing $13 million over the last seven years, according to city officials.

Downey Studios is likely headed for demolition, along with the majority of the warehouses previously used by aerospace workers.

In its place, developers are proposing to build the "Tierra Luna Marketplace," a 77-acre shopping center. Developers and city officials have refrained from calling it a shopping center, however, preferring instead to use terms such as "pedestrian village," "destination point" and other marketing lingo. But anything anchored by a WalMart, Target, Lowe's, Home Depot (all possibilities) or the like is just another giant shopping center, at least in my book.

This isn't to say Tierra Luna Marketplace is a bad idea, but at minimum it is one giant letdown, considering the build up. For years residents had been promised an upscale shopping destination. A 16-screen multiplex theater is fine, but it's not the entertainment and media center we were promised.

What's so special about Sport Chalet, Babies R Us, Fry's, Claim Jumper, Outback Steakhouse or Anna's Linens? They're all fine establishments, but they would do little to distinguish Downey, or for that matter, Tierra Luna.

When Downey courted Tesla Motors two years ago, the city really came together in its recruiting campaign, personally delivering gift baskets to Tesla's headquarters and taking out a full-color advertisement in the L.A. Times. There's no reason the same can't be done for another innovative business or industry.

Tierra Luna Marketplace is OK as a final resort, but that's exactly what it should be: a final resort.

Perhaps we can take a cue from Scott Temple and take one last swing for a homerun. At least then we could avoid speculation on what might have been.

********** Published: January 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 38