Stanislaus County seeks new plan for West Side site

gstapley@modbee.comOctober 22, 2012 

DN Crows Landing Naval 2

DEBBIE NODA/dnoda@modbee.com - Aerials taken April 1, 2010. The former Crows Landing Naval Air Station. Developer Gerry Kamilos plans to develop the area into an industrial park, West Park. A portion of the town of Patterson is at the upper left of the photo.

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee

— Stanislaus County's latest search for an industrial mastermind has begun.

Hoping to breed many thousands of well-paying jobs in a future logistics center near Crows Landing, the county on Monday began wooing prospective partners with an official call for bids.

The document offers an "opportunity of international significance" to move "local agricultural bounty" around the globe while pumping jobs into a region beset by high unemployment.

Leaders seek businesses paying wages better than the countywide median of $15.98 per hour, the new rules specify.

If all goes as planned, the application window will close Feb. 1 and county supervisors will select a winner April 16.

"I hope we receive multiple submitters," said Monica Nino, the county's chief executive officer. The county has received a few inquiries, she said, since rejecting former master developer Gerry Kamilos and his West Park plan two months ago.

Kamilos reaffirmed Monday that he will be in the running again.

The new 61-page "request for proposals" incorporates several changes suggesting a new vision for the 1,531-acre former Navy air base now owned by the county. For example, the county will not entertain a project that spills onto hundreds of adjacent acres.

Kamilos initially awed county leaders with a sprawling, 4,800-acre proposal, which he downsized to 2,900 acres last year. Several critics said that still was too large, and supervisors ultimately agreed.

"A lot has happened (since 2007), and we're a bit more savvy," said Keith Boggs, a county assistant chief executive. "We hope (new bidding rules) will help us maneuver through some of the passion" that complicated the previous selection process, he said.

Other changes from five years ago:

Applicants must be ready to plunk down $2.75 million, if chosen. The money would go into an escrow account to cover costs of required studies that supervisors previously demanded and Kamilos never produced.

He won a short-lived extension earlier this year with a promise to deposit that amount, but the whole thing unraveled when his team failed to come up with the money.

Instead of asking a steering committee for advice, the county will create a seven-person evaluation team to choose one finalist.

Last time, the steering team preferred Hillwood, a Texas company led by Ross Perot Jr. But a majority of the five supervisors, presented with two finalists, sided instead with Sacramento-based Kamilos.

Deep pockets are a must. The evaluation team won't even look at an applicant's ideas before determining the company's "financial strength and stability," and then its qualifications and experience.

Kamilos was harmed when his initial financier, Lehman Bros., went bankrupt, and again by news of lawsuits brought by former partners, as well as consultants helping him with the Crows Landing project. Such concerns should be exposed early on, according to new bid rules.

The county won't wait forever for key documents. A crucial environmental impact report and a so-called specific plan, which includes zoning and identifies how public improvements such as streets and water systems would be paid for, must be done 20 months after a master developer is signed.

Kamilos had frustrated supervisors by repeatedly asking for extensions.

West Park's innovative but controversial rail component — Kamilos wanted to runs trains to the Port of Oakland, establishing a trade link to Asian ports — was not required five years ago and still isn't. But the new document notes that possibility among the site's selling points, in addition to idle aircraft runways and proximity to truck-friendly Interstate 5.

The base "represents one of the largest undeveloped sites in the U.S. that boasts potential links" to those amenities, the document reads.

"I think our concept of the inland port (with a rail link) today has even more merit than it did five years ago," Kamilos said Monday.

The request for proposals says the valley's "overall economic outlook (is) increasingly optimistic in recent months," noting that overseas demand remains strong for nuts, grapes, dairy products and more. The paper notes the county's West Side success in luring nearby logistics centers for Kohl's, Grainger, Amazon and others.

As before, the new partner would have to promise to undertake a multimillion-dollar upgrade of a water system in the town of Crows Landing, as well as a firehouse on the base. And proposals must not mention home construction.

The developer would be required to construct 345,000 square feet of speculation space for future companies or lure a firm that would build at least that much on its own, by 2017. Total building size must double two years later, the rules say.

"Our mission remains the same: to create a center that provides jobs, for residents of this county and this region," Nino said. "We're doing our part to get (the request) out on the street as soon as possible."

Before he was cut loose in late August, Kamilos said he and investors had spent $6.5 million. "We certainly have had a lot of experience with the county and understand what's important and what dimensions are necessary to bring to the table," he said.

Bids are not due until Feb. 1, but applicants must attend a mandatory meeting Nov. 16, so a range of prospective bidders should be known at that time.

On the Net: www.crowsbizpark.biz.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.


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