Gary Stang now had a little more than 2 years left on his 20-year lease, and promoters of the new town center seemed to be planning on coexistence with Skateworld. In 2000, the City finally purchased the lot where the old gas station had been, and town center organizers began looking west on Comstock at two properties that, if acquired, would allow the project to expand all the way to the library. One of the properties is occupied by a company called Buggy Wash, then owned by Frank Piersall.
By phone, I reach Piersall at home. He tells me that Bayside’s Bob Williams and a City official, whose name he no longer remembers, spoke to him about “some weird project with a clock tower on top of it.” To complete the project, they wanted to acquire the Buggy Wash property but did not offer him money. Instead, says Piersall, they wanted him to relocate his business to an empty lot in Linda Vista across from Kearny High School. “I told them no way,” he says.
And that seemed to end the plan to build the town center at the corner of Comstock Street and Linda Vista Road. But the plan’s collapse apparently suggested to Williams the possibility of expanding the project in a different direction — onto the Skateworld property. Linda Vista resident Doug Beckham tells me that Williams, who died in 2004, also promised that “Bayside will eventually occupy the Skateworld building.”
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In early 2001, Valerie Stallings was forced to resign her council seat after admitting she took gifts from San Diego Padres owner John Moores during a time she was voting on a new ballpark for the club. To replace Stallings, a special election was held that June, an election won by Donna Frye. After Frye went on to win reelection in 2002, a redistricting ordinance put all of Linda Vista into District 6, and Frye has been its representative ever since. She terms out this December.
When Skateworld’s lease expired later in 2002, Gary Stang proposed that the City extend it another 20 years, promising to make additional improvements to the property. He submitted plans drawn up by a local architectural firm. He also suggested using the old gas station parcel as a badly needed parking lot for Skateworld. But the City told him it wanted time to review other options with the community and granted Skateworld a 3-year lease only.
On September 10, 2004, Maureen Ostrye, of the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development, wrote to Donna Frye, outlining three options: first, develop the corner lot alone, where the gas station had been, with private retail outlets and a public meeting hall; second, grant a lease for an upgraded use of the Skateworld property, with an option to buy; and third, combine the two properties, adapting the Skateworld property for continued use and building commercial space on the corner lot.
Close to a year later, as the three-year Skateworld lease was approaching its end, councilwoman Frye lifted Stang’s hopes. At a May 11, 2005 meeting of the City Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee, she made the following motion: “With respect to the Skateworld property: enter into negotiations for a long-term lease with an option to purchase with the current lessee…” Frye added language to the motion requiring research into the historical nature of the building, improving its appearance, keeping the current retail tenants, and obtaining the Linda Vista planning committee’s opinion of the plan. The motion passed four votes to zero.
Gary Stang and members of the planning group, including Wayne Bamford, were in attendance. “At that meeting, Donna Frye said some very nice things about Skateworld,” Bamford later told me. “We were all excited about the business continuing in Linda Vista.” But Stang was soon disappointed. According to city council protocol, the Housing and Land Use Committee was supposed to pass its resolution on to the council for a final vote. But the committee did not follow through. Both Bamford and Stang have told me that they inquired numerous times to Frye’s office for insight into what happened but got no answers. To this date, Frye has never explained her mysterious change of mind. Stang would never again get a chance to negotiate for the long-term lease.
Instead, the Redevelopment Agency began to grant Stang a series of one-year and six-month leases as it considered a new approach. In 2006 and 2007, the agency put out requests for proposals to develop the former gas station property but leave Skateworld alone. “Not long after that,” Stang tells me, “Michael Weber and Ivar Leetma from the Bayside board of directors came over to Skateworld to look around and talk to me. I could see they were frustrated that the latest call for proposals still had a restriction in it that my building had to be used as a skating rink.”
Stang responded to both the 2006 and 2007 calls for proposals to develop the corner lot. At about this same time, he also offered to buy the Skateworld property from the City for $2,000,000. He had found several financial backers for the plan. But the City turned him down and eventually reported that it had received proposals from only one person, Gary Stang, and that the proposals did not meet expectations. “Whatever those might be,” added Bamford during our 2007 conversations.
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During a recent conversation, Stang tells me that for all but the last few years his negotiations with the City have always gone through the Real Estate Assets Department. “The conversations were always cordial,” he says. In January 2008, the City handed over control of the Skateworld property to the Redevelopment Agency. “And then the tone changed,” says Stang. “All their dealings with me became hostile.”
Not long afterward, the Redevelopment Agency introduced a new talking point: Skateworld was “not a viable business.” According to minutes of the July 2008 Linda Vista Planning Committee meeting, the City’s Maureen Ostrye came to the group’s July 2008 meeting to deliver the pronouncement. The minutes indicate that Stang, present at the meeting as a planning group member, vigorously objected, but not before resigning and taking a seat in the audience. Stang’s objection hasn’t prevented the charge from being repeated by his opponents ever since.