Consultants, developers show up to discuss Crows Landing airbase
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator
Nov 17, 2012 | 3804 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The former air control tower at the Crows Landing Air Facility is seen through a fence.--Irrigator file photo
The former air control tower at the Crows Landing Air Facility is seen through a fence.--Irrigator file photo
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MODESTO — About 20 people, including a handful of potential developers, showed up Friday, Nov. 16, to a mandatory meeting for those who hope to convert Crows Landing’s former naval airfield into an economic engine.

Most in attendance weren’t potential project managers, but consultants representing Matthews Southwest of Lewisville, Texas; Heritage Capital Group of Florida; and previous master developer West Park were among the group.

Friday’s gathering, which took place in a conference room at the office complex shared by the county and the city of Modesto, followed an Aug. 28 vote by county supervisors to end a five-year exclusive negotiating relationship with West Park developer Gerry Kamilos.

The team led by Kamilos missed a July deadline to make a required $2.75 million deposit for project studies.

“We’ve been working on this project for some time,” said Keith Boggs, assistant CEO for Stanislaus County, to the gathering. “There’s no secret that it’s had its struggles.”

West Park’s most recent proposal was to build a 2,930-acre industrial park on and around the 1,528-acre Crows Landing airfield between Fink and Marshall roads south of Patterson.

Starting afresh

The county issued a new Request for Proposals in October with tightened guidelines for developers in the wake of West Park’s delays and missed financial deadlines.

This time around, the county is requiring a $2 million deposit from the selected developer to pay for an Environmental Impact Report, followed by $750,000 for aviation operations once the environmental document is certified. The county also seeks applicants who are only focused on developing the former U.S. Navy airfield this time and not surrounding land.

Kamilos’ first effort included developing not only the airbase, but significant acreage outside it, a plan that drew widespread criticism on the West Side.

County officials have also created a ranking system for potential projects.

Applicants will receive a pass or fail grade based on their financial stability and receive up to 100 points based on their qualifications and experience, and up to 200 points based on their technical proposal.

After a committee of undisclosed county officials evaluates the proposals, their findings will be forwarded to the board of supervisors, which will vote on which proposal they prefer.

Project proposals are due at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 1.

A look at the contenders

Don Hatch, who attended the meeting on behalf of Matthews Southwest, described the $2 million deposit requirement as insignificant in the scheme of such a large development, and a way to “separate the men from the boys.”

Hatch said after the meeting that Matthews Southwest became interested in the Crows Landing project several years ago but could not get involved while the county had an exclusive agreement with Kamilos. The company previously hoped to develop a project at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, he said.

Matthews Southwest has several development projects in Texas and in Ontario, Canada, according to the company’s website. Its projects include skyscrapers, condominiums, golf courses, an air cargo facility in Ontario, retail buildings and business parks.

Ken Allred, who represents West Park, and other West Park consultants attended the preconference, though Kamilos was not present.

Kamilos stressed by phone Saturday, Nov. 17, that his project’s past money trouble stemmed from the bankruptcy of its former financial backer, Lehman Bros. He said he had new capital partners lined up but declined to provide details until February, when proposals are due to the county.

He said he planned to propose a short-haul rail component — which was part of his first project concept — as well as an airport, though he said it would not be used for air cargo. Unlike his previous visions, he said the proposed project would remain within the confines of the airfield.

Y.C. Liu, who represented the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Heritage Capital Group, also attended Friday, though after the meeting she was uncertain if the investors she represented could meet timelines set forward.

Heritage Capital Group’s website states that the 35-year-old firm is an “independent investment banking and advisory firm for mergers and acquisitions, sales and divestitures, corporate turnarounds and enhanced business performance and value development.”

Liu, who is listed on the online business directory ZoomInfo.com as Heritage’s project manager for China corporate development services, asked during the meeting whether the county would consider proposals from foreign investors. Boggs said that would be no problem, as the county considers the project an international opportunity.

No one was present from Dallas-based Hillwood, the firm that became the runner-up to develop the airbase in 2007, when Kamilos received a bid to develop the project.

Moving forward

Boggs described development of the airfield as a “gorgeous opportunity,” given its proximity to Interstate 5 and the success of the West Patterson Business Park five miles to the north.

The Patterson industrial park includes distribution centers for W.W. Grainger, Kohl’s and CVS and is slated to gain a 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center for Amazon.com next year.

Looking at that record, Boggs estimated the Crows Landing project could be built out in about a decade.

On the other hand, Lou Ginise, senior vice president of development for Grubb & Ellis-Pearson Commercial, said during the meeting he expected it might take 30 to 40 years to build out, given the economic challenges facing the Central Valley.

Boggs remained optimistic, however, and maintained a positive outlook even with the challenges the project has faced in the past.

“I will not lie to you, there has been a lot of politics … with this project,” Boggs said. “I’ve been on the Crows Landing diet for about a decade — a pound of my flesh once a week. But I believe in what this project could be.”

• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com.

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