A former high-level Hercules official, who left in 2010 shortly before the collapse of a project to remake the city center, has resurfaced with a real estate company that is embroiled in litigation with the city.
Steve Lawton, whose tenure with Hercules as community development director then economic development director ran from April 2001 through November 2010, now is a retail consultant with Main Street Property Services of Lafayette, according to the company website at mspsinc.com.
Main Street was the city's retail broker at Sycamore North, a half-finished, two-building project slated for three floors of residences over ground-floor shops and restaurants. Sycamore North is just a few hundred feet from the proposed Hercules New Town Center mixed-use project, which ran out of money before it ever broke ground.
The now-defunct Hercules Redevelopment Agency sued Main Street and its principal, Craig Semmelmeyer, in June 2011, accusing them of wrongfully collecting about $200,000 in rents and security deposits and management fees absent any construction or tenants to manage.
The previous year, the company had signed agreements with two restaurants and a cafe to lease space at Sycamore North. But in late 2010, then-interim City Manager Charlie Long terminated the city's brokerage agreement with Main Street.
Semmelmeyer, in an email shortly after Hercules filed suit, told this newspaper there was no
In late October 2010, about two weeks into Long's brief tenure in Hercules, he announced Lawton's voluntary departure.
A few months later, this newspaper reported that the developer of the Hercules New Town Center mixed-use project had billed the city almost $2.5 million in the first nine months of 2010, much of it for consultants and travel, with Lawton and then-City Manager Nelson Oliva and then-Finance Director Gloria Leon, approving the bills. Later, the newspaper reported that a $12 million city subsidy to New Town Center had been almost depleted.
Lawton, a founder and president of the Northern California Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, declined several requests by this newspaper for comment at the time.
By then, Long was gone; the City Council had dismissed him in December 2010 and reinstated Oliva, who had been out on medical leave. Semmelmeyer was part of a gallery of Oliva supporters in the council chamber that applauded the Dec. 7, 2010 announcement. Oliva resigned the following month.
New Town Center was supposed to be built in three stages: Market Town, at Sycamore and San Pablo avenues, with offices, stores and 250 to 300 homes around a town square; Cinema Town, just east of Interstate 80, with a 12-screen cinema, stores, more than 600 homes and about 2,500 mostly covered parking spaces; and Transit Town, with about 450 homes.
So far, the only development that has occurred at New Town Center was a temporary food court, Market Hall, which closed last year.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760.