Planning Commission unanimously approves all proposals in favor of Tierra Luna development at old NASA sight
Developer Bob Manarino and landowner Industrial Realty Group have proposed a 77-acre development featuring two big-box stores, a movie theater, dozens of other retailers and up to 500,000 square feet of office space. In all, the development would add up to 1.5 million square feet of buildings.
Manarino, who grew up in Downey, said IRG spent 10 years trying to use the buildings on land that was once home to the country’s space shuttle program.
Downey Studios, the site’s current tenant, has lost millions of dollars, which Manarino chalked up a migration to digital technology for movie filming. IRG and the city also pushed hard to get Tesla Motors to build an automobile factory at the site, but that deal fell through last year when Toyota came in at the last minute and gave Tesla a better offer.
“We have tried to adaptively reuse these buildings for 10 years,” Manarino said. “We tried our best. It does not work. It’s unfortunate, but they’re economically unfeasible.”
The site is home to several huge buildings, including building 290 where four space shuttles were built.
About a dozen residents spoke in opposition to the project, calling for a use of the site that would bring better jobs and save some of the buildings at the site.
“Just to have another shopping center… is that really what we want here?” said Steve Perez, a Downey resident who works as a gardener. “I know there’s urgency involved. We want more tax revenue. And there’s no doubt the city needs it.”
But he and several other speakers said the city should hold out for something other than the proposal by Manarino and IRG.
Many felt the plans did not honor the site’s history.
“What’s a million dollars worth?” Perez asked. “Is it worth throwing away the legacy of the site?”
Downey resident Jared Head gave a history of the site, which started as EMSCO just before the Great Depression and eventually ended up being an integral part of the country’s space program.
“The new plan is not ambitious,” he said. “It is short-sighted. The citizens of Downey deserve much better. It does nothing to differentiate Downey from the outlying towns around us.”
Another speaker, Matthew Stafford, said similar centers could be found in 80 different cities in the state.
Manarino and IRG in 2009 proposed a much grander plan for the site, calling for 3.9 million square feet of development, including a residential component.
Those plans were abandoned as the economy continued to crumble.
Manarino said environmental complications precluded any housing at the site.
Speakers, several of which were from the Downey Conservancy, accused the city of rushing Wednesday’s hearing.
Several said they favored the old plan, and they wondered why the community was not invited to participate in the planning process.
They also complained that they were given little notice of Wednesday’s hearing.
“We are getting a first glimpse the same day it will be voted on,” Kathy Perez said.
Several speakers referred to the site as “just a shopping center,” a phrase that Manarino and the city’s staff seemed to resent.
Manarino told the crowd of about 30 people that he would honor the site’s history, saying his father worked there 30 years.
“We’re not just going to build a shopping center and forget about what happened here,” he said.
Planning Commissioners said they understood the sentiments of the speakers, but they said the city had waited more than a decade for a major development at the site.
“I personally would like a large, high-tech company to plant its roots on this property,” said Planning Commission Chairman Robert Kiefer. “We’ve had no takers.”
The city should not “sit back and wait for the next Rockwell to come along,” he said. “I think right now, we’ve waited long enough.”
The issue is tentatively scheduled to go before the City Council for approval on Jan. 10.