Norco prison closure may move jobs, but open other opportunities

NORCO, Calif.

In years past, the Norconian resort was one of the grandest hotels around, complete with a golf course, man-made lake, and even a lakeside pavilion.

"It was fantastic," said Norco Mayor Kevin Bash. "Clark Gable came here, you had Gene Harlow, you had the Three Stooges. You name a movie star, they came here."

Today, however, convicts are the ones who stay on site. In the 1960s, the place was transformed into a prison. Now the state is considering selling it to save money.

Bash is excited about that prospect and the potential for renovation and redevelopment of the historic site.

"In essence, what you could create there is one of the great buildings of all time on a hill, overlooking a lake," Bash said.

If the state closes this prison, that means they're going to need to move a lot of those prisoners. If that happens, there are those who are concerned about the jobs that will be moving out of the city as well.

"We need to be keeping jobs and growing jobs, not losing them right now," said Norco resident Dean Guccione.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the staff will be absorbed into other institutions in the department, perhaps to wherever the prisoners are sent. But that would mean 1,200 employees and their families might have to leave the area.

But Bash said the potential is incredible. He said imagine the prison replaced by townhomes, a civic center and another resort.

"It will be a huge boon to this community," he said.

Still, the earliest the state would close the prison is 2016, so it could be quite some time before the signs, guard towers and barbed-wire fences are replaced with something else.

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