Late last year, the City came to the Clermont owners and demanded changes in windows, electrical wiring, and the fire escape. As a result, only a handful of people are now living there, and the owners are not getting much income as they sink up to $300,000 into the upgrades. Huff-Willis thinks Centre City was behind the orders. “It’s a heckuva coincidence,” says Sidiropoulos.
As a developer, Jones has critics. Councilmember Donna Frye remembers when Jones and his lawyer came to her office during the Murphy administration. They wanted to build a mixed-use project in Linda Vista. “He [Jones] came in and said, ‘This is how much’ he needed for his project. He was furious that I would not agree to giving him $10 million. I was shocked. It was one of the most amazing meetings I’ve ever had. He got his [$10 million subsidy] from council over my strong protests. He didn’t do any traffic improvements, and after the project was built we had serious traffic issues.”
Both Huff-Willis and Trowbridge are suspicious of the long relationship between Related and Nancy Graham, president of Centre City. She was mayor, later head of downtown development, and then a private developer in West Palm Beach, Florida. As revealed in a Reader column of November 23, 2005, before she even came to San Diego, a successor mayor criticized Graham for her cozy relationship with Related. While she was mayor, her signature redevelopment project was done by Related’s big New York wing. When she went out on her own, she did business on a big project with Related’s Florida operation.
Graham says she disclosed this to the Centre City board. “I did not negotiate this [Seventh and Market deal],” she claims. “I was in a few meetings where we were not able to reach agreement.” It was the board that rejected Huff-Willis, she says. “The Black Historical Society wanted whoever was selected to give them space. It went before our board, and it chose not to do this.”
As to Related and Graham, “There was no relationship that presents us with a conflict,” says John Collum, Centre City’s senior project manager on Seventh and Market.
One big question is financing. Who would provide it in this downtown market? “The condo market is a little sad,” says Frank Alessi, Centre City’s chief financial officer. A little sad? “Hotel financing is not the best in the world, but it is better than condo.” Financing for rentals is better, he says. The board will approve the deal before the developers have to line up financing. “At day’s end, it should be doable.”
But not without a fight.