By Raymond R. Beltran
Quietly, the Mercado Project is officially back in the hands of the city, beginning this past Monday.
A month ago, Mercado’s former developer Sam Marasco was rejected by courts when he tried to appeal a previous decision that stripped him of his right to develop on seven acres of land in the middle of Barrio Logan, a project that had gone on far too long with not as much as a brick buried in between the overgrown weeds.
This week, the planning department starts anew with all their legal rights to proceed, according to the city attorney’s office.
That means, for residents who have hollered ‘more community input’, it’s time to rekindle with those concerns voiced last year: a mix of culture, commerce and social services.
“Officially, we took control of the land this Monday,” said Robert Chavez, the city’s project manager for the Mercado Project. “And we’re moving forward to select a developer for the land.”
Currently, the interested developers are down to three: Forest City, Shea, and McCormick, Baron, Salazar.
Chavez says the city will be holding a closed door meeting August 7 with developers to reintroduce their vision for the area.
More than likely, he says, their will be a ninety-day deadline from that meeting to submit a request for proposal, or RFP, where the developers exhibit a model or visual map of what they plan to build.
The city is to have a developer chosen by the end of 2007, from that time, an agreement will be made to determine the length of time and process that will guide the developer.
The project wanted by businesses and residents is going to depend greatly on funding from the private and public sectors, says Chavez. “But at some point, you have to draw the line,” he says. “We want community benefits, but it has to be self-sustaining … it has to generate revenue that can repay loans.”
He says it will be a “balancing act” for developers in that community residents and community activists have long been demanding a cultural arts center, the land in question being so close to the historic Chicano Park, where a world renowned collection of politically charged murals are housed.
Others plead for more social services due to the fact that Logan is made up of working class families who balance a household income of $40,000 a year.
Originally, the empty lot, which runs along Cesar Chavez Parkway on the corner of Newton Avenue, was to be developed by the non-profit Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee, or MAAC Project in 1994. Phase one was completed, The Mercado Aparments, now a diamond in the ruff.
But the lot remains empty and last year MAAC dropped their name from the title of the project, leaving LandGrant Development, owned by Sam Marasco who joined the project in 2000, to finish the job.
Ultimately after twelve years with nothing more than a Mercado billboard planted on the property, the city seized the land, a decision that sparked appeals from Marasco.
All the while, community activists and residents held meetings throughout last year to create a list of concerns and needs they’d like to see answered and provided under the project’s new leadership.
Most importantly, residents wanted to see an equal amount of representation on a panel the city is creating to choose developers.
Chavez says three seats will be occupied by city officials and three by residents. So far, the Project Area Committee or PAC, a community based group that advises the city on redevelopment isssues, has been notified about the current progress.
As for court appeals by LandGrant Development, Deputy City Attorney Glen Spitzer says that the judges’ previous decisions will deflect any future attempts to reclaim the land and that he is suing Marasco for up to $5 million in damages.
$1.3 million in redevelopment agency loans and the rest in tax increments and sales tax loss by a lack of commerce that should have been in full swing years ago. Trial is set for September 7.
“He [Marasco] failed to perform,” Spitzer says. “I don’t’ think that’s going to be difficult at all to prove.”
Meanwhile, he says the city has every right to continue with the development process while litigation is in full swing. Whether or not community input, recorded last year, will surface in their endeavors remains to be seen.