It was 3 p.m. on a normal Wednesday when the news broke, “Mace Ranch Innovation Center Project on Hold.”
As explained in the press release, the 212-acre proposed project at the northeast corner of Mace Boulevard and Interstate 80, with its anticipated 5900 jobs and $2.2 million to $6 million in ongoing revenue, was put on hold based on the new EPS (Economic & Planning Systems, Inc.) report which concluded that “the project might not be feasible given that only 128 acres or 60 percent of the site are considered developable and that infrastructure costs are high. The estimated infrastructure costs of more than $50 million are four times the industry standard for similar projects, according to the project sponsors.”
“We remain highly committed to the project but need to figure out how to make it work,” said Dan Ramos, project manager. “We appreciate the efforts of city staff to move our project forward and are disappointed that we have to take this step. We’ve invested considerable funds, gathered a significant amount of community feedback and taken substantially more time than is customary to process our proposal.”
The Vanguard later spoke to developer Dan Ramos and got reactions from some of the key players in the city.
Dan Ramos explained that the major concern was the fiscal viability of the project, which he called “challenging.” He said, “Right now, to make the capital investments that need to be made to make that project work, the way it’s designed and some of the requirements there, it’s very challenging.”
Mr. Ramos said they are going to “take a pause and see if it makes sense to keep investing the capital into this project.” But they are not giving up on the project yet. He said, “There are a lot of ways to try to correct the project and make it work.” He added that they are going to “stop spending money until we figure this out.”
Mr. Ramos noted that they have already completed the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and a lot of other studies with community inputs.
The Vanguard asked Dan Ramos if this means that housing is back on the table.
He responded, “I would hope that there can be a discussion about it – a rational discussion – and how it relates to good planning in today’s 21st century environment of how these business parks are developed.” He said the fundamental question that has to be answered is if “we create jobs, where are these people going to live? From an environmental standpoint the closer we can get them into the project the better it’s going to be for everybody.”
The Vanguard sought an official response from the city – but the city has at press time not been able to release a formal statement.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who along with Councilmember Rochelle Swanson sits on the subcommittee that is representing the council on these projects, told the Vanguard on Wednesday, “I am disappointed to arrive at this pause after all the hard work by staff and commission members. I will note that EPS highlighted the question of feasibility without housing in their original fiscal analysis. Staff and the Council subcommittee will meet with the proponents to discuss next steps.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, in a phone message to the Vanguard, said, “This news is very disappointing.” She said that from the beginning she has been saying that “this is an essential piece to our (having) a truly balanced long-term sustainable budget for our community to sustain our quality of life which can capture the asset of UC Davis and give the graduates as well community members meaningful opportunities to have fulfilling cutting edge careers so we can change things in the future.”
“Robb and I as the subcommittee and leaders are committed to sit down and work with the applicant’s team and reach out to other partners and truly look and see what are our options. We’re not willing to give up… they’re putting it on pause, we’re going to see what we can do moving forward,” she added.
Will Arnold, one of the candidates for city council, told the Vanguard, “Despite this setback, I remain deeply committed to fulfilling the recommendations of the citizen-based Innovation Park Task Force, and leveraging the knowledge and talent stemming from UC Davis to the maximum benefit for our community.”
Matt Williams, another candidate for city council, said, “Regarding the withdrawal of MRIC, looking backward is an interesting intellectual exercise, but it isn’t going to change the fact that our efforts to expand/diversify our revenue sources just evaporated. The job of the next Council just got significantly harder. It became even more demanding than it already was expected to be.”
Jason Taormino, Vice Chair of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement on Wednesday, “The Davis Chamber of Commerce believes we have lost the best chance in twenty years to welcome new businesses to town and maintain our quality of life.”
He continued, “The ever increasing unfunded liabilities of the City of Davis and diminishing services can only be reversed through increased taxes or new business growth. Davis is competing, and losing, to other towns in our region when it comes to attracting business and creating long term sustainable revenue sources. The Chamber encourages those with power and influence in town, including government, to lead and provide for the next generation – not relying solely on taxes, decreased services and crumbling infrastructure.
“Ultimately, the lack of a major innovation and technology center in Davis will result in the status quo of few jobs for our children and grandchildren and a continuation of the daily commute to Sacramento, the Bay Area and to other neighboring towns,” the statement continued. “We commend the Ramos Group for their long term commitment to the City of Davis and for their valiant efforts and major investment of time, money and resources to fully satisfy the expectations of the Davis community.”
There are key questions now – will housing come back on the table? Is this pause just a chance to change course or is this the end of the project?
From their perspective, Dan Ramos said they want to consider all their options.
In his statement he said, “We want to develop a true state of the art innovation center that’s worthy of the site and the City of Davis, that can withstand the test of time, and that all of Davis can be proud of.”
“Through this process we’ve concluded that one way to make the center more feasible is to include workforce housing in addition to the innovation space, which along with providing environmental benefits would help the project build out faster and more quickly generate needed revenue for the city. Potential tech users from Davis and elsewhere have indicated that they are looking for well-planned projects where their employees can live, work and play,” Mr. Ramos said.
“We also need to explore other potential funding avenues such as the establishment of an enhanced infrastructure financing district, state grants, and cap and trade funding opportunities to improve the project’s economics. We will need to be very creative,” said Mr. Ramos.
What that means for the city, and its prospects for economic development and revenue, remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting