Many years ago Fullerton’s city planners cooked up an amorphous project called the Fox Block to surround the historic Fox Theater on the Northeast corner of Harbor Blvd. and Chapman Ave. The original idea, it seems, was for the now defunct Redevelopment Agency to (what else?) subsidize a developer’s downtown project to help, somehow, make the Fox Theater’s eventual operation as an arts and entertainment venue possible.
But there were several problems…
First, rather than augment the silent film era theater, the succession of proposals for the mixed use development got larger and larger until they looked like they would suffocate the theater instead. Neighbors to the north were horrified to find out that a multistory parking structure would be built right across the street from their homes.
Second, each set of renderings was comically worse than its predecessor. The final set of drawings threw in everything but the kitchen sink, picturing a fustercluck of bland, mismatched architectural clichés piled atop one another like God had regurgitated an office park on Downtown Fullerton. Whoever designed it got a C- in postmodernism.
Third, it became clear that the development was not going to do anything at all to raise money to fund the restoration of the (still closed) Fox Theater. It was just another giveaway of public land to a developer to build a particularly bad eyesore near one of the city’s landmark corners.
The project finally tanked back in 2009 when the Fullerton City Council caved to public pressure and common sense (except for dear old Don Bankhead, who held out until the bitter end) and axed a deal that would have paid millions of dollars to the nearby McDonald’s to be torn down and moved several hundred feet Eastward, where the city had purchased several modest craftsman homes and flattened them to expand a parking lot for the future Fox Block. It was just too much, even for Dick Jones, and, in many ways, signaled the end of the grand era of Redevelopment Agency boondoggles.
And now, out of nowhere, it’s back, as Regular Business Item # 1 on the agenda of the Fullerton City Council’s June 21 meeting. City planning staff are recommending that the Fullerton City Council “enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Pelican Communities, Inc. for the Fox Block Development Project properties.” Yes, you read that right, Pelican, the same tired developer who has been granted something like seven extensions to develop the equally ill-conceived Amerige Court, also on taxpayer owned properties in downtown Fullerton.
According to the staff report, last May the City Council, in closed session, voted to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to develop the collection of six properties around the theater. Of the “several” responses received, Pelican rated the highest. Say what? The same people who haven’t been able to do anything at all with the Amerige Court area for about a decade? One has to wonder what the submissions from the other guys looked like…
The agreement calls for a period of one year, with two optional 45 day extensions, within which the city will negotiate only with Pelican to see what they can do. Let’s look at the bright side, maybe they’ll do nothing at all, which might be the best we can hope for.