Tierra Luna, which means "Earth Moon" in Spanish, is a 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use development of shops, restaurants, a 16-screen cinema and professional and medical office space.

It's expected to generate more than 3,300 permanent jobs, 1,200 of them in the office space, and $4.2 million annually in sales, property and hotel occupancy taxes, said Brian Saeki, director of community development for this city of about 112,000.

He said Tierra Luna is far better than the once-proposed Tesla electric-vehicle plant.

"It's more beneficial for the city," Saeki said. "It will create three times as many jobs and generate more revenue for the city. It's going to be a place for people to congregate, be entertained and to shop."

The project will be housed on 77 acres near Lakewood Boulevard and Imperial Highway that Downey Studios occupies. The studio, which lost $13 million in the past seven years, will close and be razed, Saeki said.

Because the site is zoned for industrial use - it's the former home to the NASA plant where the Apollo space capsules and space shuttle orbiters were designed and fabricated - the City Council has to change the zoning ordinances.

The council unanimously approved the project earlier this month and is expected to give a final approval at tonight's meeting. The zoning ordinances will take effect 30 days after the approval.

`Betrayed' by Tesla

In 2009, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sought to manufacture the company's electric sedans at the Downey Studios site, calling the location and one in Long Beach finalists for the plant.

Downey officials bent over backward to lure Tesla, whose plant was projected to generate about 1,000 jobs.

However, on May 20, 2010, after months of negotiations and hours before the council was to vote on lease terms for Tesla, the company pulled the plug on the deal. Instead, the facility would be opened at a former Toyota assembly plant that had closed the previous month in Fremont.

Downey officials were outraged.

"We feel used. We feel betrayed," Councilman Mario Guerra told the Press-Telegram at the time. "They have totally stabbed us in the back. Good luck to any other municipality that trusts them like we did."

The Tierra Luna project, compared with the Tesla debacle, appears to put the city in the driver's seat for economic development.

"To say we are bringing a mixed-use development with more than 3,300 permanent jobs - and the city didn't put any up-front money into the deal - in the middle of a recession is pretty amazing," City Manager Gilbert Livas said.

Following the council's expected approval, developer Bob Manarino can start submitting building plans and might start construction by the end of June, Livas said.

Manarino has the financing but hasn't yet announced any potential tenants. The city could begin soliciting lease agreements by March, Saeki said.

In 2008, Industrial Realty Group, who purchased the land from the city and owns it, attempted to get Tierra Luna off the ground. The original plans included 1,500 multi-family units, but when the housing market and economy tanked, the project was aborted, Saeki said.

Then Tesla drove into the picture.

After that deal fizzled, the city tried to court other green technology companies, such as manufacturers of electric trucks, solar panels and batteries, to lease the Downey Studios property. All of those businesses, however, wanted significant up-front subsidies to launch their projects, and the city said no, Saeki said.

Early last year, Manarino, working with Industrial Realty Group, approached the Downey council and re-introduced Tierra Luna Marketplace without the housing portion.

Benefits abound

The project will include two big-box stores, 13 "junior anchor" retail stores, a 16-screen movie theater, up to 500,000 square feet of office and medical clinic space, a 150-room hotel, four stand-alone restaurants, a food court and a gym. The project also will include a pedestrian paseo similar to the Santa Monica Promenade.

In the adopted development agreement, the city submitted a comprehensive list of several hundred pre-approved men's and women's apparel shops, restaurants, specialty stores and hotels it would accept at Tierra Luna Marketplace.

The lengthy list of businesses includes the Yard House, Yogurtland, Cheesecake Factory, Trader Joe's, 24 Hour Fitness, T.J. Maxx, Barnes & Noble, Lowe's, Rockport, Coach, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, the Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, and many more.

As part of the agreement, the city will pay Manarino $1 million annually for 20 years if the shopping center generates $2.5 million in sales tax annually, Saeki said.

Manarino also agreed to construct a fire station for the city and spend a minimum of $235 per square foot during the construction of Tierra Luna to ensure a quality development, Saeki said.

The fire station will be an adaptive reuse of Building 1, designed by renowned architect Gordan Kauffman to house the offices of early industrialist E.M. Smith and later NASA's Apollo space program. The city hasn't decided when it will be built, Saeki said.

Other parts of Tierra Luna also will be designed to celebrate the site's aerospace history, but Saeki said he doesn't have the details yet.

Downey was a center of aerospace innovation since 1929, when a section of ranch land was converted into an airport and aircraft manufacturing facility, and eventually the NASA plant.

In 1999, the aerospace facility, which changed hands and was owned by the Boeing Co., closed. The city purchased the entire 161-acre site and renovated it for other uses.

A sports park, the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the Downey Landing Center and Kaiser Permanente Hospital occupy other parts of the former aerospace center.