PASADENA — Flamboyant developer John Patrick Wilson is uncharacteristically silent these days about plans for his $42-million Pasadena Marketplace, an ambitious and much-publicized shopping arcade that appears to be in financial peril, some present and former business associates and city officials say.
The 46-year-old multimillionaire, who wants to build a 350,000-square-foot mall in a downtown district where a block of dilapidated, but historically significant buildings now stands, refused comment last week on reports that the marketplace is running short on cash and that he has let much of his office staff go.
It is one of the few times that Wilson has had little to say since he began lavishly touting the project almost a year ago.
Creditors say that Wilson is looking for a new, major source of funding because he may lose the backing of one of the largest financial investors and property holders in the project. They also say that Wilson is far behind on payments owed them for services associated with the development and that Wilson has fired or laid off most of his office staff because of financial problems. One creditor, who built a replica of the marketplace, has sued Wilson over a $16,000 bill outstanding since July.
City officials said last week that they were "very concerned" after hearing such reports from various sources but said that Wilson has not informed them of any problems, nor is he required to do so at this point in the development's planning stage.
"I think the matters are quite serious," said City Director Bill Thomson. "I don't know where John expects to get his financing. I think if he doesn't have his financing in place in two or three weeks, the whole deck of cards may begin to crumble. It is a subject of much concern to the city board."
Heralded by city officials as the bellwether development in Old Pasadena, a downtown redevelopment area where chic shops and restaurants are springing up in the midst of seedy bars, transients and drunks, the marketplace is one of the biggest projects ever undertaken in the city.
Although Wilson refused to speak to a Times reporter, some of his creditors and former associates have begun to speak out.
Doug Yates, president of Model Technics Inc. in Newport Beach, built the replica of the marketplace that Wilson proudly showed city officials last year during his high-profile campaign to gain conceptual approval for the development.
Yates, who claims that Wilson has yet to pay him $16,000 of a $35,000 contract for the model, has filed suit against Wilson in Orange County court for breach of contract. Like some others who have worked with the developer, Yates said Wilson's arrogant business demeanor left considerable rancor between him and the developer.
"It was so bizarre working for him," Yates said. "There were people who worked for him who put their hearts and souls into this project. Then John would turn around and just humiliate them and run them into the ground. I've never seen anyone treat people the way he did."
City officials said that they are keeping a close eye on the project because Pasadena has already issued $23.5 million in certificates of participation to finance two public parking structures near the marketplace site. The structures would be filled largely by the cars of marketplace shoppers. If the marketplace is not built, city officials said they may have to delay building the parking structures.
The marketplace is designed to house a 40,000-square-foot Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, four movie theaters and up-scale shops like Papagallo and Capezio. There would be skywalks between the buildings and three trolley cars would circle the block bounded by Colorado Boulevard, Fair Oaks Avenue and Holly and DeLacey streets.
Wilson, who received conceptual approval in July for his project, had said then that his final blueprints would be back before the Community Development Committee in January for 100% design approval--the point at which he must show proof of financing for the project to obtain building permits. Wilson, however, is behind schedule on his final plans and is expected to submit them later this month, city officials said.