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Published on January 6, 2010

Richmond Officials Divided over Whether to Extend Closing Date for Casino Deal

By Katherine Tam Contra Costa Times

Richmond city leaders struggled and eventually failed to reach an agreement Tuesday night on whether to extend the closing date on a deal with the developer seeking to open a hotel-casino resort on the waterfront.

Though some said an extension would allow time to finish negotiating key details and avoid a possible lawsuit, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin argued that the original Jan. 15 deadline should stand. [emphasis added]

Upstream Point Molate LLC and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians want to build a resort that would include a 240,000-square-foot casino with 124,000 square feet of gaming, a conference center, nearly 1,100 hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters and a shoreline park and trail.

At issue Tuesday night was the 2004 deal in which the city agreed to sell the abandoned Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot to Upstream for $50 million. Part of that has been paid; the developer is to provide the remaining $35 million by the closing date.

City officials and the developer have been negotiating for weeks over several issues, including who Upstream has as a financing partner for the $1.2 billion project and how much say the city should have over how the resort would look.

Despite two motions, the City Council was unable to reach a majority vote Tuesday on extending the closing date to at least Feb. 15.

The city and developer, interpreting the 2004 deal differently, disagree about whether a lawsuit filed by project opponents Citizens for East Shore Parks automatically delays the closing date for the land sale. Councilwoman Maria Viramontes said granting an extension would take care of that disagreement and prevent it from escalating into a court challenge.

"Let's not go into another lawsuit. Let's give the extension," said Viramontes, who voted against the 2004 agreement but has said she's willing to consider the current project.

McLaughlin, who opposes a casino, objected to an extension. She said Upstream has failed to provide required letters showing it is financially capable of moving the project forward, a statement some disputed. Upstream should submit its financial plan as required on the closing date or be in violation of it, McLaughlin added. [emphasis added]

Several public speakers agreed and voiced doubts that Upstream can deliver what it promises.

"It's a case of smoke and mirrors," resident Tarnell Abbott said.

Jim Levine of Upstream did not attend Tuesday's meeting and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Supporters argued that the resort is the first project to be proposed for Point Molate that would generate thousands of jobs.

"We are starving for jobs," said Aram Hodess, business manager for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 159. "A $1.2 billion project shouldn't be sneered at."

Two council members — Ludmyrna Lopez and Jeff Ritterman — were absent Tuesday, leaving five at the dais. Four votes are required for approval. At least one council member hinted at possibly calling a special meeting when the full council is present to weigh the issue again before the Jan. 15 deadline.

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at


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