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Condo Project Woes Embarrass Pomona

May 15, 1988|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — Sanford Sorenson, the city's director of community development, stood before a crowd of northeast Pomona residents at a town hall forum last week, pointing proudly to a map marked with colored dots that represented redevelopment projects in progress in their area.

But when Sorenson pointed to the project at the corner of Arrow Highway and Towne Avenue, he turned a little sheepish.

"That's one we're almost embarrassed to talk about," he told the residents.

The Cobblestone Creek condominium project, originally envisioned as a 296-unit complex of moderately priced units coupled with a refurbished shopping center across the street, has made little progress since it was approved five years ago, and the bank that made the main construction loan is foreclosing on the property.

The project and the proposed Inland Pacific World Trade Center were cited as examples of the Community Redevelopment Agency's shortcomings in a report issued earlier this month by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. The report faulted the agency for not adequately investigating the background of the initial developer for the Cobblestone project, who has since gone out of business.

'Negative Feelings'

"It's one of the examples of a lack of success that have caused some negative feelings," said City Administrator A. J. Wilson.

Five years after the City Council approved the venture, only 64 units have been built. The plan to renovate the shopping center was dropped after the Redevelopment Agency abandoned efforts to acquire the property through eminent domain. And instead of being a cure for blight in the area, the shopping center is a symptom, the boards over its windows covered with graffiti.

Meanwhile, the current developer of the condominium project, BX Realty, has reportedly stopped paying some of its debts. California First Bank is foreclosing on the property in an attempt to recover $8.6 million in unpaid debts from a $17.5-million construction loan, according to a spokesman for the bank.

The project has also become a financial liability to the Redevelopment Agency, which is still owed more than $550,000 by BX Realty--money the agency stands to lose if the bank forecloses on the property, city officials said.

And Cobblestone Creek has become a source of anger and frustration for officials of Central Baptist Church, which is still owed more than $1.4 million for the land it sold for the project in 1983.

The church and the city, respectively, are next in line after California First Bank to collect on the unpaid debt, but city officials have expressed doubt that the land is worth the amount owed the bank.

"I doubt that we'll get our money," said the Rev. Ron Boldman, the church's pastor. "I don't think the bank can get enough out of (the property) to get their own money back. . . . The church is in a bind. We even had to close our (elementary) school because the operating funds were gone after (developers) reneged on their agreement."

Councilman Mark Nymeyer is particularly upset by the impending foreclosure. In addition to sitting on the Redevelopment Agency board, Nymeyer is the business manager for Central Baptist Church.

Will Lose Money

Nymeyer said the church, the Redevelopment Agency and the bank will probably all lose money on the project. He said the agency, the city staff and the bank should all share in the blame.

"No one can say that there's any one person who's at fault for this," Nymeyer said. "It's a chain of events, and all of them have led to disaster. . . . Poor decisions up front and poor management along the way have led us to where we are today."

However, developer M. J. McConnell, president of BX Realty, which took over the project in 1984, insists that all is not lost.

Although he has not decided on his legal response to the foreclosure proceedings, McConnell said he is talking with other developers in an attempt to obtain financing to pay off his debt to the bank by the June 30 deadline and finish the project.

"We haven't given up," McConnell said. "We're negotiating at the present time with four or five different parties to complete the project for the full 296 units."

Rosy Forecast

Asked to assess the likelihood that he will be successful, McConnell presented a rosy forecast.

"I'm an optimistic person," he said. "I believe the chances of a completed project there are 100%."

But Nymeyer is not so sure.

"I certainly would like to share his optimism, but optimism in developers of large projects in the City of Pomona is a rare commodity," Nymeyer said. "The trade center and this project have made us a little gun-shy. . . . I don't share his optimism, but I'm looking for him to give me hope, because right now I don't have any."

The Cobblestone Creek project began in 1982 as a proposal by developer Christopher Wheeler of Essex Investment Group to rehabilitate the shopping center on the southwest corner of Arrow and Towne and build a mixed commercial and residential project on the southeast corner.

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