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It looks like it’s back to the drawing board for Los Alamos County, as hopes of a new municipal building were squashed last night.
The County Council voted 6-0 in favor of rejecting all proposals under RFP No. 2008-1637 and canceling the solicitation with DePonte Investments.
Councilors voted in favor of canceling the solicitation with DePonte because of the inability of the proposer (DePonte Investments) to provide sufficient evidence of property ownership of all property at the proposed site and the failure of the proposer to submit to the county an adequate financing commitment with a lender.
Council also moved that staff return to the council to discuss further options related to the construction of a municipal building and its location.
Problems with the project started in October, when members of the Elks Lodge voted against selling their property on Trinity Drive to DePonte for the purpose of development.
At that time, the plan was to relocate the Elks Lodge to the Entrada site, however at last night’s meeting, Lou Carrillo, an Elks trustee, said that the piece of property and the building that was offered did not meet the needs of the lodge. At the time of the offer, there was also some discussion about whether or not the Elks would be able to keep their liquor license.
“We had some miscommunication with the Elks,” Brent DePonte said. “They had a specific process to go through and we thought we had everything done. The Elks were confused and thought they could lose their liquor license, and they could only vote yes or no (on whether to sell the property). I didn’t know it was cut and dry,” he continued.
DePonte went on to say that he thought they had taken care of things and have since met with the Elks’ trustees and gone over their concerns. He then asked council for a six-month extension so that he could draw up a new building that would meet the Elks’ needs, for submission to their board for approval.
He also expressed his confidence in being able to get the property sales finalized within the six-month time frame.
Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson was reluctant to grant an extension and questioned whether DePonte ever had a valid purchase option.
“The original RFP required proposal include a valid purchase option. You clearly don’t have one and never had one. How can you say you’ve performed?” Gibson asked DePonte.
DePonte said that he did have and still does have a valid purchase option.
“This is not that overwhelming of an issue,” he said. Gibson pressed on by saying that he didn’t see a valid purchase option, but instead, what DePonte submitted seemed to be an application for financing.
DePonte claimed that financiers Piper Jaffrey told him they’d stand ready, willing and able to “do this for DePonte.”
However, County Administrator Max Baker said that the verbal statements on financing were new pieces of information for him.
Council Chair Jim Hall later asked County Attorney Mary McInerny whether or not the documents presented by DePonte met the requirements of the RFP. McInerny said, “No. The Piper Jaffrey letter is almost like a letter of reference. It’s no commitment.”
Councilor Michael Wheeler was also leery about granting DePonte any more time on the project.
“Tell me what you can deliver in six months,” Wheeler told DePonte.
“I can give you parameters, we’ll redraw their (the Elks) building and move forward with the original timeline. I won’t just sit back and wait for one thing to be done. We have to draw their building up and get comments,” DePonte said.
Wheeler was unconvinced and asked DePonte what sort of financial assurances he could deliver to council. “I would have to talk to investment bankers and figure out the term sheets,” DePonte said.
Councilor Ken Milder voiced his concern over all the time the county had lost during the project negotiations.
“You said the county doesn’t lose anything, but we do. We lose time. How willing are we to lose six months? Other options have arisen. I’m uncomfortable with six months. We’d need to have strong milestones,” he said.
After more discussion, Gibson asked Carrillo how long the Elks have been discussing the relocation to Entrada.
“We were approached by Main Gate in 2004 or 2005,” Carrillo said. After Carrillo’s statement, Gibson moved to reject the proposal and cancel the RFP. Councilor Frances Berting seconded the motion.
Following the motion and the vote, DePonte addressed council once more. He said he felt that his company responded to the original RFP, and for the complexity of the project, the timelines were dynamic. “I felt this project didn’t have any hiccups,” he said. “I would love to do things differently than we did in the beginning. Personal agendas for something so important to the community should not get in the way. You should never put your personal agendas before the community.”