POMONA — Prospects grew dimmer for the proposed Inland Pacific World Trade Center this week as the City Council declined to give promoter H. Thomas Felvey an extension on his May 1 deadline to secure backing for $100 million in bonds issued in April, 1987, for the project.
However, City Administrator A. J. Wilson said the project, a $96-million office-hotel complex that city officials had hoped would spark the rebirth of downtown Pomona, is not dead--not yet, anyway.
"I won't ever say die," Wilson said. "I'm still hopeful something will happen, but I'm skeptical."
Felvey's firm, Urbanetics Inc., received the exclusive right to develop the 4.6-acre site across from Pomona's Civic Center in 1984. Construction of the 12-story project was to have begun more than a year ago, but within that year, key partners in the venture have backed out and reports of Felvey's financial and legal problems have surfaced.
The Times revealed last May that two firms owned by Felvey had been suspended from doing business by the state Franchise Tax Board and that he had been the target of numerous lawsuits in connection with unpaid bills and unfinished projects.
In the wake of these disclosures, council members last year said their continued support of the trade center hinged on the involvement of a reputable developer. But last November, Birtcher Construction Corp. withdrew, describing the project as overly ambitious.
Since then, Felvey has kept a low profile, making sporadic contact with city officials, assuring them that he was trying to line up financial backers by May 1.
With the deadline hours away, Felvey sent a telex to the city last Friday requesting that his development agreement be extended four months to allow a firm representing Taiwanese investors to conduct a feasibility study of the project, Wilson told the council at its meeting Monday night.
"The receipt of this written request was, to say the least, a bit late and really provided no substantial reason why this project could be made successful in 120 days," Wilson wrote in a memo to the council.
On Wilson's recommendation, the council did not take any action on Felvey's request for an extension, but at the same time it did not declare Felvey in default of his agreement to build the trade center.
Sanford Sorenson, the city's director of community development, will try to contact Felvey today to ask the promoter to provide a "more concrete" reason to extend his agreement with the city, Wilson said.
In a brief interview Wednesday, Felvey denied that he had requested an extension of the deadline but would not provide information on his attempts to attract investors.
"All I can say is that we're going to try to pin down some financing and if we can, we're going to bring the project to the city and if they approve it, then we'll build it," Felvey said.
Wilson said he has told Felvey that even if he can secure financing for the project, the city will still require him to have commitments from firms to lease space in the trade center.
"I told him he would have to have a very specific package put together before we would even extend (the agreement)," Wilson said, adding that the city will accept "no more 'spec' projects, because on a speculative basis he has not performed. So, I could not in good conscience recommend that we extend the relationship with him."
The Los Angeles County Grand Jury issued a report Monday that was highly critical of the Pomona Redevelopment Agency's handling of major projects, including the trade center.
The report faulted the agency for failing to conduct an adequate background check on Felvey until he had held exclusive development rights on the trade center for more than two years.
Council members shared Wilson's leeriness about committing to a project with Felvey, with some saying they would not favor any trade center agreement in which he was involved.
"I'm glad May 1 has come and gone," said Councilwoman Nell Soto, an outspoken opponent of Felvey's participation in the project.
'Don't Want Any Part'
Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant, a longtime critic of the trade center project, concurred: "I don't want any part of that as long as Felvey's involved."
However, Mayor Donna Smith said the council should not rule out an agreement with the investors Felvey is trying to attract.
"I know that the agreement has expired, but I don't see 20 people knocking at the door wanting to build something there real quick," Smith said. The mayor added that she would favor an arrangement that would "remove Mr. Felvey as a major player and make him a very, very, very small partner."
Felvey notified the city in March that he was working with Harvard Fang of Los Angeles-based Union Good Investment Co., which represents Taiwanese investors who have expressed interest in the project.