COMPTON — The residents of Compton will have to wait longer for their long-awaited Centennial Ball.
With construction at the Compton Lazben Hotel at a virtual standstill, the city has announced that it will postpone the grandest event of its 100th birthday celebration until next year.
"It was a blow, it was a disappointment, but Compton has come through worse disasters," City Councilwoman Jane Robbins said this week.
City officials were counting on throwing more than a big birthday party Dec. 17. They were eager to show off the $30-million hotel-convention center that is being built along the Artesia Freeway, largely with redevelopment funds and city loans.
Instead of getting off to a roaring start, however, the Compton Lazben Hotel is taking a public relations beating before its doors ever open. A series of delays have plagued the project since its inception in late 1984 when the city agreed to float a series of development bonds.
The latest construction halt follows a Nov. 16 decision by state labor officials to freeze payments from the city of Compton to the general contractor, Tucon Development Co.
The state Department of Industrial Relations imposed the order after ruling that the 300-room hotel-convention center qualified as a public works project because of the city's involvement in its financing. Builders are legally bound to pay prevailing wages on public works projects. The department concluded that Tucon owed $3.3 million in penalties and back wages to workers after investigators said some workers allegedly received only a third of what state prevailing law requires.
Compton officials had hoped that a meeting last week with state officials might resolve the dispute and release the funds. State officials, however, refused to knuckle under.
"If it drags on for a long time, it's really going to be disastrous for everybody," said Tucon President Benjamin Deutsch.
The hotel's contractor and prospective operator said the delayed opening forced the cancellation of 30 office Christmas parties, wedding receptions and other private engagements booked for December.
But delays have dogged the Compton Lazben from the start. Construction was supposed to begin in 1986 but design problems set back the construction schedule by six months. Work halted for several months earlier this year while city officials scrambled to arrange a $5.5-million loan to complete the job, a loan that was eventually made by the city itself.
The Centennial Ball was set for September, then moved to Nov. 14 and finally to Dec. 17 in anticipation of the hotel's opening.
To try to get the project moving again, Compton City Atty. Wesley Fenderson said he is preparing a letter this week formally asking state labor officials to change their minds about declaring the hotel a public works project. Fenderson said he hopes to avoid taking the matter to court.
In the meantime, deliveries of furniture and other materials are arriving at the hotel--and a few workers remain to install them. The hotel is more than 90% complete, Deutsch said. The kitchens are finished, glistening chandeliers hang from the ceilings and fresh paint covers the walls.
He said the state's order came without warning, tying up millions of dollars and preventing more than 200 hotel management and employees from starting their new jobs.
"We were never notified they were going to do this. Government agencies usually don't work that way," Deutsch said.
Robbins said the centennial bash is still going to be held at the convention center, even if it means waiting. She said that the change of plans for the 650-guest formal ball required canceling providers of services, but that no city funds were lost.
And even if it is delayed, she said, the celebration will be "spectacular." There is still time to hold the event within the Hub City's centennial year: Compton does not become 101 years old until May 11.
But when will revelers take to the dance floor of their new hotel and convention center? "In a situation like this, you never know," Robbins said.