Commerce Negotiates Last Piece of Urban Entertainment Center Land

City’s redevelopment agency is working with owner of the Citadel Outlets to develop 27-acres located next to the 5-freeway.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

The City of Commerce has obtained the last piece of property needed for a 27-acre urban entertainment center project that has been in the works since the late nineties.

The city council, acting as the commission for the redevelopment agency, struck a deal at a Mar. 24 meeting with the owners of the Commerce Casino to exchange property each owns.

The agency traded a property on 2301 Tubeway Ave. that the Casino already uses as warehouse space, for an old railroad right of way called the Spur property, to be used as part of the project.

“It is the last link in the process [before the agency commission] can start looking at different redevelopment projects,” said Assistant Director of Community Development Alex Hamilton.

The Mar. 24 vote to approve the exchange agreement still needs to be finalized to meet redevelopment agency reporting requirements, so will be brought up again at another meeting this month, he said.

Craig Realty, going by the name Eureka Realty Partners, entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with the redevelopment agency to develop the property in 2009.

The entertainment center is “book-ended” by the Commerce Casino and the Citadel Outlet, so the agency commission has said they “don’t want a project that is going to compete” with others on the Telegraph Road Corridor, according to Hamilton.

Two concepts for the project were recently floated in closed session with the city council, Hamilton said. The general idea is to build a pedestrian friendly retail and entertainment center as part of a larger revitalization of Telegraph Road.

Some completed projects in the revitalization include the Citadel Outlets, Commerce Casino, and Costco.

Craig Realty is required to submit letters of intent for potential tenants and a report on the financial viability of their proposed project as part of its agreement with the city, but was twice granted extensions after citing the uncertain state of the economy. Their deadline for providing this material is now set for October of this year.

Most of the urban entertainment center project site has been cleared, according to Hamilton. Last fall, the city demolished seven buildings located on other properties acquired through the years by the redevelopment agency.

Hamilton says as a developer, Craig Realty has a “proven track record” not only elsewhere, but also within Commerce. Steve Craig who heads the development company “has done tremendous work at the Citadel [Outlets],” which late last year opened a new wing of shops, he said.

The goal of the project is to bring more revenue and jobs into the city, and to remove blight from the area, Hamilton said. The project has been considered ideal because of its visibility from the 5-freeway.

The agency commission was nearly barred from voting to obtain the last piece of property it needed for the project because of campaign contributions commission members received from the Casino, which happens to be a major revenue engine for the city.

At the Mar. 28 meeting, the city attorney said four of the five council members received contributions from the Casino in the past twelve months, so they had conflicts of interest that would prevent the agency from having enough people, a quorum of three or more, to vote.

However, the agency was allowed to form a quorum by drawing straws, and council members Lela Leon and Joe Aguilar were picked to vote with Councilman Robert Fierro, who did not receive any contributions from the Commerce Casino in the past year.

The final vote was 3-0, with Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio and newly elected Councilwoman Denise Robles sitting out the discussion and vote.

Baca Del Rio has not filed campaign finance statements for the past twelve months, but disclosed to the attorney that she had received contributions, according to the city clerk. It was known that Baca Del Rio held a fundraiser during the last year.

Up until December 2010, Baca Del Rio had not filed a single campaign finance statement since she was elected to the city council in 2005. She filed late campaign finance statements, as required by law, for the 2005 through 2009 period at the end of last year.

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April 7, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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