How much will it cost Long Beach to keep car dealership Cal Worthington Ford – a city institution of 36 years and one of its largest sales tax generators – from moving away?

City officials are about to find out, as they put together a financial assistance package for the dealership made famous by decades of playful television commercials featuring cowboy hat-donning owner Cal Worthington and his “dog” Spot.

The trouble started in early March, when Worthington Ford told the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce that Ford Motor Co. had offered it incentives to move to another Southern California location. The dealership asked the chamber to broker a deal with the city to help it stay.

“We’re doing what we can to create whatever incentives are possible within reason to keep the dealership in Long Beach,” said chamber Chief Executive Randy Gordon. “We’re just trying to compete with Ford Motor Co. It’s sort of David and Goliath here, and we don’t know what Ford Motor’s offer is.”

Amid the disruption in the auto industry, Ford has pursued a strategy of reducing the number of its dealerships in the state while increasing the size and market of those remaining. In that way, Ford is trying to follow Japanese automakers’ “megadealers” strategy.

As a result of negotiations, Long Beach officials placed a $250,000 loan to the dealership for approval on the April 20 City Council agenda. But the item was pulled to allow the council more time to consider the issue and explore other financial assistance options, said Deputy City Manager Reggie Harrison.

The loan would not necessarily have had to be repaid, as long as certain milestones were met, which could involve sales tax revenue or the dealership’s headcount, he said.

Officials may propose a new assistance package for approval as early as May. Worthington Ford is one of the city’s 10 largest sales tax revenue generators and employs just under 120 people. “They’re probably one of the most recognizable businesses in the city. They’re very important to us,” Harrison said.

Representatives at Worthington Ford did not return calls for comment. But Gordon said that the dealership has indicated that Ford wants Worthington farther from Pacific Ford, a dealer in adjacent Lakewood.

Worthington Ford officials have indicated to the chamber and city that if they were to stay in Long Beach, they would want to expand to the vacant former site of a Power Chevrolet dealership down the street on Bellflower Boulevard. That could result in an additional 50 employees, Gordon said.

In a statement to the Business Journal, Ford Motor spokesman John Clinard confirmed the auto maker had asked the dealer to move. “To ensure that our dealers provide the best coverage for the public and achieve profitable sales and service volume for their businesses, we continually monitor market coverage and from time to time suggest that dealers consider relocation,” he said.

Worthington, 89, lives on a ranch in the Northern California community of Orland. The dealership is run by his grandson Nick.

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