April 5, 2013

Fresh ideas needed for Crows Landing project

Months after the county’s landmark decision last August to cut ties with West Park developer Gerry Kamilos, the former Crows Landing Navy Base sits dormant in western Stanislaus County. The 3-1 vote by county supervisors ended five or six years of spirited debate and killed the West Park story. Still, the county owns 1,528 acres of runway, old buildings and dirt near Crows Landing. The county’s attempt to find another master developer resulted in no one submitting a bid in February. The site, situated within a mile of Interstate 5, is regarded for its potential for distribution centers and air

cargo operations, a possible hub to send the valley’s farm products to trade partners in the Pacific Rim. The former Navy air station was turned over to the county in 2004. Finding a developer to turn the place into a major jobs center still is the main option being considered. Later this month, county supervisors are expected to hear ideas from Keith Boggs, assistant chief executive officer for the county. Boggs said Friday he has talked with local economists and people in the development community and continues to work on his recommendations. The county has some options to make the project more appealing to investors, though it’s unclear how popular they would be. It could discard requirements for a $2 million escrow account to pay for studies, scratch a demand for $750,000 in runway improvements and tell potential bidders they don’t need to improve the town of Crows Landing’s water system. Any county project would be more complex than simply creating a business center with shovel-ready building sites. Under the agreement that turned over the property, the federal government told the county to maintain the runways in case they are needed in a national emergency. County officials have wanted to see a business park that complements a commercial airport at the former base. Over the years, they have heard other ideas from visionaries about inland ports, international trade and just-in-time manufacturing. But at least one supervisor is eager for suggestions from the business world. “We never did talk to anyone who has built industrial projects,” said Jim DeMartini, whose district includes the area. “We have to do something different than what we did last time, or there is no use in going forward.” Decades ago, consultants gave some sound advice to Patterson leaders, advising them to designate land near the freeway for distribution centers and warehouses — just as Tracy had done before them. The county and city worked with developers such as Keystone Pacific to enable the business parks and got the calls from Fortune 500 companies. In five years, Kamilos never got around to delivering an environmental study for the Crows Landing project, a task that still needs to be done. Boggs said the county could use farm lease revenue to fund and certify an environmental review and, once that is done, look for a master developer.

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