COMPTON — The money was raised last winter, and the ground breaking took place last spring. But the actual construction of Compton's first major hotel will not begin until early next year--at least six months behind schedule--because of design problems encountered by the developers.
Despite the inauspicious start, city officials say they are confident that the proposed $30-million Alameda Plaza Hotel--financed almost entirely by a combination of redevelopment taxes and municipal bonds--will eventually rise alongside the 91 Freeway as a cornerstone in Compton's economic recovery.
"It's just taken a little more time than we anticipated," said Myrna M. De Jean, director of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.
Funds Earning Interest
The delays apparently have not cost the city any money; $15.6 million from the sale of redevelopment tax certificates and $14.3 million from industrial development revenue bonds, all earmarked for construction, are earning interest in an escrow account until the shovels start turning, De Jean said.
Co-developers Lazben Financial Co. and D & B Development Co. are also well within the time frame spelled out in their city contract, which merely calls for construction to start by next summer at the latest, she said.
But the delays have concerned some city leaders, such as City Council members Maxcy D. Filer and Jane D. Robbins, who say the 300-room hotel is urgently needed to boost business in Compton and provide jobs to hundreds of unemployed local workers.
"They said they were going to start about July 1," Filer said recently, "and they've never given the council or the UCDC (Urban Community Development Commission, composed of council members) any reason why they haven't started."
Said Robbins, "It's frustrating, and (the delay) feels like a long time. But I guess it isn't when you consider the amount of time it took us to get Towne Center"--a shopping center that was several years in development.
So far, the slow progress has proven most costly to Compton Community College, which hurriedly assembled a new curriculum in the construction trades last spring based largely on the developers' pledge that qualified students would be given first crack at roughly 250 construction jobs.
Students Flock to Classes
Nearly 300 students quickly enrolled in the classes, as city officials predicted that hotel construction would start by "early summer" or most certainly by September. Now, with both those dates long passed, class ranks have dwindled to 40, college spokesman Charles Cropsey said.
"There's no denying there's been some dampening effect," he said, while stressing that college officials still plan to continue the instruction as a permanent academic offering.
And while many students were initially discouraged by the lengthening hotel delays, Cropsey said, some have managed to find other construction work, thanks to their college-acquired skills. "The way that the other inquiries and opportunities have been arising tends to mitigate that disappointment," he said. "Less and less, as time has gone by, have they even really pinned their hopes on that hotel."
'It Just Takes Time'
But work will begin "probably in about two months," said Michael Wecker, a vice president of Tucon Development Co., which is acting as general contractor on behalf of Lazben and D & B. (All three firms are guided by either Southern California developer Naftali Deutch or his sons Lawrence and Benjamin. All three previously developed the 1,600-room Anaheim Hilton Hotel and the 1,300-room Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel and Towers, city records show.)
"When you talk about a project of this magnitude," Wecker said, "it just takes time to put things together." The hotel should be complete 12 to 15 months after work begins, he said.
The proposed 10-story, 165,000-square-foot hotel will include a restaurant, a health spa and a city-owned convention center with a two-story parking garage.
Wecker said the developers "were not overly happy" with the initial layout of the Compton hotel. "Basically, we were struggling with the design. We knew that something didn't feel right about it . . . . You certainly don't want to put up something you're not happy with."
So, Wecker explained, the developers called in architect Joseph B. Rosenthal, a former director of planning and construction for Hilton Hotels Corp. Rosenthal adjusted the "flow of traffic through the hotel" and rearranged kitchens, banquet rooms and other spaces to take better advantage of the 5.27-acre city-owned site on the north side of the freeway adjacent to the Alameda Auto Plaza. "We think we have a much better facility," Wecker said. "That's really what the big delay was."
De Jean said the city has agreed to build access roads from the freeway to the hotel entrance at an estimated cost of about $600,000. On Tuesday, she asked council members for permission to pay up to $75,000 for the road engineering work, but the request was postponed until legal officials decide if the city is required to seek competitive bids from various engineering firms.
Wecker said the developers still have not found a firm, such as Hilton, to manage the hotel. "We're talking to several groups"--none of which he would identify--"but there is nothing definitive yet," he said. And they are still trying to decide how best to come up with about $3.5 million which represents the developers' equity in the project. But neither of those loose ends has caused any delay, Wecker said.