Referendum derails plans for hotel, restaurant, shops

By Jeanie Hankins

Publisher

A developer with plans for a hotel, restaurant and retail shops in downtown Wickenburg has ridden off into the sunset. Government and private interests involved in the plan are hoping to regroup, and the force behind the referendum which apparently drove the developer out is not commenting.

Nevermind

Provident Real Estate Ventures LLC notified the Town of Wickenburg on Friday, Aug. 2 that it will not move forward with a plan for a three-story hotel, upscale restaurant and retail shops. The company also withdrew from its pending purchase of Heritage Square from ARW Ventures LLC, according to ARW partner Jeff Davis.

The Plan

Provident released its plans late last year. Following public hearings, and lengthy discussions with Town staff and stakeholders in downtown, Provident modified its original plans to address local concerns. According to Davis, the original plan was for Provident to completely clear the entire Heritage Square property from E. Wickenburg Way to Apache Street and erect all new construction. Because of the community’s anticipated nostalgic sentiment toward the streetscape, which includes the former Gold Nugget Restaurant building, Provident agreed early on to leave the shops along E. Wickenburg Way intact, Davis told The Sun. Following public hearings, the developer further modified its plan to also leave intact the adobe house in the middle of the property, because of its historic value, Davis explained.

Subsequently, Provident and the Town of Wickenburg reached a development agreement which included the hotel leasing from the Town a small, undeveloped dirt lot between Heritage Square and the roundabout. Provident would improve the lot for parking. The agreement also contained a promise from the Town that the community center parking lot could be used by hotel traffic. The lease and use agreement solved the parking requirements set by town code and compensated for the parking areas lost by leaving the buildings standing, according to Town Manager Vince Lorefice. The development agreement was approved by a unanimous vote of Town Council on May 20.

Not so fast

In June, a referendum petition was applied for and returned by Wickenburg resident Casey Hanna. On July 29, Town Clerk Amy Brown confirmed the petition had enough valid signatures to become an item on a future election ballot. This also suspended the development agreement between the Town and Provident until after the election, which according to Brown’s estimates would have been in March or November 2020.

On July 3, The Sun reported Town Council would consider rescinding the development agreement, conduct a fair market appraisal of the dirt lot and find ways for Provident to move forward with agreements which could not be subject to referendum. The topic was scheduled for the Aug. 5 Council meeting, but was then moved to the Sept. 3 meeting.

As of Friday, Provident gave up. Lorefice told The Sun, a Provident representative told him the company’s attorneys had “timeline concerns” and advised against holding on any longer.  

Provident’s representative did not return a message from The Sun.

What now?

Mayor Rui Pereira said on Monday, “I am very disappointed that Provident has pulled out, but I understand their reasons.”

Lorefice echoed the mayor’s sentiment, and said the Town invested “a significant amount of staff time” as well as other expenses such as the cost of appraisal of the dirt lot, attorney’s time, etc.

Davis confirmed Provident had on Friday backed out of the pending real estate transaction. ARW partners will take some time to reconsider the future of Heritage Square, he said.

Among those options is the possibility that ARW will carry the process forward. “We see what the hurdles are. Are we interested in putting in place a site plan, in putting in place the agreements with the town that would allow us to bring these guys back to the table, or go seek out a different operator?”

Davis said he has not been able to reach representatives from Provident, but he hasn’t given up on the idea of a hotel development with them or another company.

“We’re talking about it, but if we don’t feel like we can get community support and council support, my option may be to sell those buildings individually and let it be what it is forever.”

Another option could be for ARW to exercise its rights as an owner of private property. “The general public needs to understand these are not buildings listed on the historical society list…I pay my property taxes, same as everybody else… I have never gotten a penny of grants…That building may have history, and we respect that, but you can’t make me keep that building. I can go in there today. I can pull an excavator in there, and (with appropriate legal notice to the tenants) I can remove all those buildings right now, and open up a big vacant lot and put a big sign on it that says ‘hotel site – for sale.’”

Lorefice said the loss of the project is multifaceted. Over the course of eight months much staff time was invested into working with Provident, as well as attorney time and $4,000 the Town paid for half of the property assessment, in addition to other costs. Further, Provident representatives were talking about the hotel as an “anchor project” which could have fostered other development such as a new RV park and construction of workforce housing – activities for which Provident is widely known, Lorefice said.

Pereira said he will continue to push for a plan to come together now that the idea is on the table. “This opens up an opportunity for other partners to come forward and do something downtown. I don’t think the project is dead by any means. I look at the glass half full, and I think something else will turn up, and it will be just as good as what we had before,” Pereira said.

Procedurally, because Provident has given notice to the Town that it will not move forward, Council will likely vote to deactivate the development agreement during its Sept. 3 meeting. That will stop the election process from taking place. An election would have cost the town about $20,000, Lorefice estimated.

Why?

As of Monday morning, the author of the referendum was mum on his reasons for pulling the referendum, which thwarted the project. When asked by The Sun to describe his primary objection to the development agreement, Hanna said he had done a “a quick run-through” on the development agreement and “found about 71 issues that could be summarized into a set of groups of stuff.” If given more time to prepare, “I can work out some general descriptions… that a reader would be able to understand,” Hanna said. “That’s a bit more detail. I’m not prepared at the moment.”

“I’ve been out of town for two weeks, and have a bunch of business on my desk. It would be better that I be prepared for a statement than I do it off the cuff here,” he said. He mentioned meeting with his “team” before offering a statement. The Sun had not received a statement by its deadline for this issue.

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