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Developer Drops Controversial Offer : Lancaster Courthouse Deal Fizzles

June 06, 1989|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Frank Visco, a Lancaster developer who is also state Republican Party chairman, abruptly withdrew Monday from a proposed agreement with the city of Lancaster to acquire land for a new courthouse, after the proposal was attacked as unfair to other developers.

Visco blamed Lancaster Councilman George Theophanis, a political rival, for orchestrating opposition to the project.

Under the proposal, the Lancaster Redevelopment Agency--which has the same members as the City Council--would have loaned Visco $1.5 million.

The money would have helped Visco buy a 30-acre site at Sierra Highway and Avenue M for $4.3 million. The land would be offered to the county for construction of a new home for the Antelope Valley branches of Los Angeles County courts. The county government would have to approve the project and finance the construction.

Developers Object

But other developers feared that Visco would get the inside track on the construction work.

After Visco's decision to withdraw, the redevelopment agency voted to open negotiations to all interested developers.

Visco blamed the change on "my being in the limelight politically" and said he thought "the project is going to die."

Visco and city officials said the proposal would have enabled the financially strapped county to move ahead with plans to replace the present courthouse at 10th Street West and Avenue J. That courthouse is badly overcrowded.

Visco had offered to construct the new facility and work out financing with the county. The county has been involved in discussions with the city regarding a new court facility, estimated to cost around $40 million, but was not yet committed to building it, city officials said.

Visco offered to repay the $1.5 million at an interest rate 2% higher than the roughly 9% the city presently earns on its investments, and offered to donate to the city $1.5 million from any construction profits he might make.

On Monday, Theophanis criticized the proposal, saying the city should not be involved in the lending business.

'Not a Good Deal'

"If it's such a good deal, why doesn't he go to a lending institution?" Theophanis said of Visco. "If it's not a good deal for the bankers, it's not a good deal for the people. He's using this to get a nice safe loan."

Theophanis criticized city officials for adding the item to the agency agenda after 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, saying it was an attempt to keep the plans from the public. City officials said the posting was delayed because discussions with Visco and county representatives lasted late into the afternoon Friday.

Two rival developers complained to the council Monday night that the proposed exclusive venture with Visco was unfair, and asked to be considered as builders of the project.

"I'll take the same contract and you don't have to give me the $1.5 million," said A. C. Warnock. Developer George Lane said: "It should be left to the free enterprise system. You're locking all the others out."

Councilman Arnie Rodio rejected accusations of preferential treatment for Visco and praised Visco for bringing the proposal to the city. But he said the city should open negotiations to all interested developers. Shortly afterward, Visco told the agency to withdraw his proposal from the agenda of Monday night's meeting.

Mayor Lynn Harrison said she thought the opposition to the proposal was motivated by political hostility to Visco.

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