Saeki lays out city's economic strategy

DOWNEY ‚àí Appearing before a standing-room only crowd consisting of Chamber of Commerce members, independent businessmen, representatives of the arts community, and other community leaders, the city's community development director, Brian Saeki, on Wednesday once more outlined the components of its vaunted Tierra Luna project, even as he provided an encouraging update of significant business developments in the city, raising hopes that the city's economic fortunes could really be on the mend."I've come to inform you of the basic facts," Saeki, who was guest speaker on the invitation of the chamber's city affairs committee, said. "There's so much misinformation out there, that I welcome this chance to clarify some misconceptions about what we're doing." The project's features, which by now must be familiar to most residents, include: 1.5 million sq. ft. of new retail/commercial, entertainment and office space, which is expected to produce over $4.2 million of revenue to the city and 3,300 mostly "well-paying" jobs; a 16-screen movieplex; a 150-room hotel; and more. Announcing some encouraging news, Saeki said: "Something concrete should be in place, as far as Tierra Luna's start of construction is concerned, by mid-summer. Retailers, car dealers, hotels, and restaurants are all doing very well: we have Stonewood Mall figures, for example, confirming this. Nissan, Champion Dodge, Toyota, and Honda are reporting increased sales activity. The Fiat facility on Firestone Boulevard should be springing to life in three to four months. And this town loves restaurants." "La Barca should be opening by next week," he continued. "Construction at the Downey Gateway slowed a little bit, but it has picked up. It will provide seven or eight new restaurants. Yes, there's truth to the rumor that we're introducing batting cages to Downey." "At the same time," he noted, "we're helping the arts community with their various projects, including the Downey Art Vibe program, the Art on the Vine series, and others." There was some negative news as well. Saeki announced the impending layoffs of city employees come July 1 because of budget cuts. It was learned later that the economic development manager, the neighborhood preservation coordinator, and one part-time intern, had earlier been laid off. "It's sad that this had to happen, but these positions were dependent on redevelopment funds which is now history, of course. H.O.M.E. funding has been cut by fifty percent, while CDBG grants have been trimmed by 20 percent. So we've had to make some painful decisions." Looking again at the bright side, Saeki said, "There are other projects we're working on which we cannot divulge at the moment." There was much vocal opposition to the $150-million Tierra Luna project when its approval by the city council was first announced in early January, but this time audience reaction was hushed, civil, and palpably positive. At any rate, mayor pro tem Dave Gafin had this earlier cogent argument for the project: "The city council had a choice to either change the site's specific plan and add these 3,300 jobs or sit on its hands and have only a few hundred jobs down the road with nearly no tax revenue to the city…The site is private property. The developer [Bob Manarino] wants something there, but it has to be economically feasible." Councilman Mario Guerra added this comment: "Our past and current city leaders …have explored options, weighed factors and have looked at our future wants and needs. I am sure that, when finished, Tierra Luna will be a regional attraction and destination." "We're glad people are really getting interested in what's going on downtown, what the future holds for the city," Saeki said, noting the large turnout Wednesday. "We feel rewarded for all the hard work city staff, from the city manager on down, has put in." He said finally: "Just know that this is an exciting time for Downey."

********** Published: February 9, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 43