HERCULES -- The Hercules City Council on Tuesday narrowly granted a developer a four-month extension to close escrow on a half-built, four-story apartment-and-retail project near the center of town.
Mark Conroe, a principal with UC/BNB Partners LLC, said he has run into unforeseen delays and complications related to financing and title issues, higher-than-anticipated construction cost estimates and other logistical problems since he agreed in March 2012 to take over the failed Sycamore North project from the city for $425,000 and a promise to finish it at a cost of $30 million or so.
On Tuesday, Conroe reiterated his commitment to the project and his previous optimism that he can bring it to fruition, but he said he needs more time.
"We're jogging in place, waiting to figure out construction costs," Conroe told the council.
The city conceived Sycamore North as a mostly low-income housing project with luxury stores on the ground floor, an idea critics, in hindsight, say was doomed from the start. The city spent about $35 million on Sycamore North before it ran out of money, eventually declaring it a failed project.
Conroe and his group have since renamed it Town Centrale and recast it as a high-end complex of about 140 apartments with 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of restaurants and stores on the ground floor.
Conroe's group put down $250,000 when he signed the purchase-and-sale agreement last year. He said he expects to spend another $500,000 in the next few months, the bulk of it on construction drawings.
The extension granted by the council Tuesday runs to July 19; the previous deadline was going to be Friday. If by then the Conroe group and its financial backers end up deeming the project unfeasible and walk away, UC/BNB would have to deliver the construction drawings to the city or forfeit its $250,000 deposit.
The extension passed 3-2, with Councilmen Bill Kelly, Dan Romero and Mayor John Delgado in the majority; Councilwoman Sherry McCoy and Vice Mayor Myrna de Vera dissented. It became the ninth amendment to the original purchase-and-sale agreement.
De Vera chastised Conroe for the delay and the resulting "four more months of blight," and accused him of caring more about himself than about the Hercules community. She questioned the value of Conroe's construction drawings, adding that she wanted an all-retail ground floor, whereas Conroe envisions a large chunk of the ground floor as residential.
Conroe said any developer who might take over the project would likely be guided by the same drawings.