By JENNIFER DENEVAN
Needles Desert Star
NEEDLES — The transportation element of the El Garces restoration project will be getting underway as soon as possible based on Needles City Council’s decision March 13 to move forward with using federal grant money the city has for that portion of the project.
Allan Affeldt, of El Garces LLC, gave an update to the council at the March 13 meeting. He gave a brief background of the project and how the project hasn’t progressed in the last two years. He said the company and the city had been trying for a joint development agreement to allow for a transfer of the title of the building to El Garces LLC. That has been in the works for nearly two years.
Affeldt said there’s finally been a response to the letter regarding the JDA. The FTA stated they couldn’t see why the city couldn’t move forward with the project for the transportation part, such as parking and a visitors center, but indicated they weren’t likely to approve the JDA.
He said what that means is it’s highly unlikely any private investor will help with the project. It doesn’t matter how much time or money the private investor spends, they will have no security in that investment, which means no bank will back the project, he continued.
There was a conference call about a week prior to the city council meeting to see what should happen next, Affeldt said. There is still about $5 million in grant funding available, which is substantial; the catch is the city can’t spend it on anything such as restaurant or hotel. The city can spend that money on basic infrastructure and the shell of the building, he continued.
An additional challenge is Congressman Jerry Lewis is retiring at the end of the year, Affeldt said. All the funding for the project is federal and Lewis has been a big supporter. It is possible the city could lose that support once he retires, he continued.
“My advice to you as an elected official is to spend the money before you lose it,” he said. There is no expiration date on that funding, but given the economy, there is a good chance the grant money will disappear, he added.
The recommendation is to spend the money and get as far as the city can and somewhere along the line perhaps a third party will want to participate, Affeldt said. About 80 percent of the architectural engineering has been done for the building and there’s already been a process for a construction manager. It is believed the city could go to bid with all those documents within a couple of months, he added.
It’s estimated that the entire building could be completed within a year’s time since the scope of work has been reduced, Affeldt said. There isn’t any reason the city couldn’t have all the money spent within a year’s time, he continued.
Dan Lutzick, of El Garces LLC, said it is important for the city to be sure to place the proper electrical and utilities so they can expand in the future. If done correctly, they won’t have to reconfigure anything in order to expand at a later time, he added.