CSUN/21″/1stjc/mark2nd By JULIE SABLE Staff Reporter A proposed $25 million upscale retail center on 20 acres of unused land on the campus of Cal State Northridge is drawing fire from local merchants who claim the development is an inappropriate use of state-owned land. The 220,000-square-foot University MarketCenter is slated for development on Devonshire Downs, a former fairgrounds site between Zelzah and Lindley avenues. The center is expected to provide 300 jobs and become a cornerstone for development of the remaining 45-acres of vacant land. University officials say the project will bring in about $1 million for the university in lease revenues and $1.25 million in local sales taxes. Those funds would then be used to provide on-site educational programs as well as job experience for students. “Education programs would be funded by this project, which calls for a combination of public and private partnerships,” said Frank Wein, facilities director of CSUN’s North Campus. During a public hearing last month, opponents voiced concerns over additional traffic that would be generated by the development concerns that Wein said have been addressed by widening four of six affected intersections and adding traffic lights. But opponents are not just worried about the increased traffic they’re worried about losing business. And because the state would be effectively subsidizing the development by providing the land, they say the new project will provide unfair competition. “Business owners are still feeling the effects of the devastating 1994 earthquake and many have not yet rebounded from the effect it had on Northridge,” said Dick Hardman, executive director of the Northridge Chamber of Commerce. “This project will be direct competition to an already struggling retail environment.” Instead of building new retail in an area where many store owners are struggling, chamber officials would prefer the university develop something that conforms more closely to its academic mission. “Let the laws of supply and demand dictate whether we need more retail,” said Northridge Pharmacy owner Barry Pascal. “If you go out and take a look at all of the vacant buildings and businesses in the area, you will have your answer.” Pascal would rather see the university develop a “farm team” for the entertainment industry by building production studios. “With backing from a big entertainment company, the university could build sound studios and computer labs for animation that would be used by the production studios and students as well,” Pascal said. According to a recently completed evironmental impact report, the center will not compete with other merchants in the area because the retail spaces would range from over 20,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. Many of the existing retail and businesses in that area are in the 1,500-to2,500-square-foot range. “The demand for retail space for larger retailers cannot be met by other retail centers already in the area nor can the demand be satisfied by other proposed or pending projects in the community,” Wein said. Gerald Curry, past president of United Chambers of Commerce, an alliance of 23 Valley-area Chambers of Commerce, called the vacant area an eyesore. “Businesses should support reasonable development in general,” said Curry, a Canoga Park attorney. “The MarketCenter is an attractive project that is clearly well-designed and well-drafted.” The project calls for a long-term lease of the site to the project’s private developers, Cousins Market Centers Inc. and Hopkins Real Estate Group, both from Newport Beach. Los Angeles Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents Northridge, has not taken a formal position on the project but is concerned about the impact on neighboring merchants, said assistant chief of staff Francine Oschin. “The councilman wants to make sure that the community is protected and that the MarketCenter does not have an adverse effect on other businesses in the area,” she said. The public comment period ends April 14. University officials hope to win approval from the California State University Board of Trustees this summer, and approvals by the city of Los Angeles this fall. If the approvals are granted, construction could begin at the end of the year with completion in late 1998, Wein said.