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Santa Clarita Decides to Put $3 Million into Hotel, Center

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Santa Clarita’s City Council has agreed to pump $3 million into a hotel and conference center, over the vehement opposition of a council member who wanted the project subjected to competitive bidding.

The council, by a 4 to 1 vote, approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday between the city and Newhall Land & Farming Co. to move forward with construction of the 18,000-square-foot conference center and adjoining 200-room hotel.

Under the agreement, the prominent developer will supply $23.6 million to construct the facility at the corner of McBean Parkway and Town Center Drive.

The city’s financial contribution to the project will come from federal Economic Development Administration funds allocated after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and earmarked for general infrastructure projects. But the money has strings attached: It has to be spent by February, 1998.

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Putting the project up for bid might have taken two years under the best circumstances, or possibly as long as four years, said Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp.

“Typically we would” ask for bids on such a project, Pulskamp said. “But given the time constraints, and the fact that the developer was already [involved], the time to act was now.”

Pulskamp said city officials put out requests for proposals to build a hotel and conference center three years ago. They received no responses.

So when Newhall Land approached the city recently about the idea, planners suggested using the federal earthquake recovery money.

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But the project stirred an angry reaction from Councilwoman Jan Heidt, who objected that other potentially interested developers or hotel companies were not given a chance at the business.

“This has all been accomplished outside of the public view for the most part,” she said.

Heidt also challenged the center’s location, which would be near a major shopping mall, saying it would suck business to one side of town at the expense of smaller businesses elsewhere.

“If one part of the community goes up, why does one part have to go down?” she said in remarks after the meeting.

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The move represented a victory for the city’s planners, who had long sought to accommodate a desire for local meeting and banquet facilities. The city obtains the additional benefit of having its name in lights: the agreement stipulates that the words “Santa Clarita” be part of the center’s name.

The city estimates the center will bring in $32 million in tax revenue over 30 years and create 150 new jobs.

The city also promised in the memorandum to “expeditiously process the applications for approval of the development and construction of the Conference Center/Hotel Project.”


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