Business

Aftermath of a fire at the Banning Business Center in November 2017.

Illusions of grandeur for what was intended to be a “condominium-style business complex” across nine acres along Lincoln Street back in November 2016 fell far short of the vision that was supposed to be the Banning Business Center.

The series of buildings that sit on three separate lots has since devolved into what locals jokingly referred to as the “Lincoln Street homeless shelter.”

For a project that was never completed or commercially occupied, it has history.

In 2006 Randy Anstine was city manager — the one who is credited with the handshake deal that gave the Banning Chamber of Commerce a waiver on utilities charges, which resulted years later in a grand jury investigation.

The center was, officials predicted at the time, estimated to cost $20 million to build, and generate 350 new jobs, and generate $40 million or more in revenues for the city.

At its inception, Michael Oman of Palm Springs-based MG Banning LLC was hoping to attract retailers catering to the medical and legal fields, though no tenants were announced.

MG Banning LLC’s financial partner at the time was La Jolla-based Scripps Investments and Loans, a private lender specializing in real estate acquisition, development and construction.

By 2008 the centers were struggling to obtain funding after their bank fell through as the recession loomed and company representatives anticipated construction to begin in September of that year on the nine anticipated buildings.

Representatives claimed at the time that there were “many interested parties looking to take advantage” of the Banning Business Center’s location.

By 2016 the six buildings that had fallen into neglect had become a nuisance and a public safety concern: more than 100 service calls, several fires and at least $35,000 in uncollected citations by January of that year prompted the city to initiate receivership.

The three parcels at the time were then owned by Mission Viejo-based Zukaza LLC (the only one who was in compliance with code enforcement, having boarded up its buildings), San Diego-based 40 Bruin Lancaster, LLC, and Temple City-based Palm Investment Group LLC and De Ortega N.G. Trust.

“We have exhausted our resources,” then Police Chief Alex Diaz told city council at its Jan. 12 meeting. Due to fires on the property, he referred to pictures shown at the meeting: “You can see the torched damage and the water damage, and metals have been salvaged, which will cause further danger to first responders.” He explained, “People are actually living in there and leaving drug paraphernalia and fecal matter,” and warnings regarding trespassing have been “tampered with” or removed, Diaz said.

The failure of the Banning Business Center made Banning’s city council gun-shy when it came to helping other new business entities trying to get started in Banning: the city lost out by waiving nearly $1 million in impact fees for the center.

In January 2017, former mayor George Moyer told a prospective business entity that they were wary of allowing any more deferments or waivers to businesses, since just months earlier “the Banning Business Center … asked us to forgive them” nearly $700,000 in city fees.

On Nov. 21, 2017 Riverside County Superior Court Judge Irma Poole Asberry appointed Richard Griswold, a Solana Beach-based attorney, as the receiver.

Through 2017, Griswold had been credited with having been appointed a receiver more than 50 times in 12 California counties.

Three days prior to that action, another fire had broken out at the abandoned center, forcing the closure of one lane on eastbound Interstate 10 that required the attention of 26 firefighters.

As of that date, at least 19 fires had been reported at the center.

By October Asberry had declared the property a public nuisance.

“The balance of harms to the public, particularly the safety concerns and the expenditure of public funds, outweighs private property ownership rights,” Asberry wrote in her order.

After more than a year of rehabilitation inactivity and a failure to secure the property by Griswold, the city announced on Aug. 14 that Riverside County Superior Court Judge L. Jackson Lucky granted the city’s motion for reappointment.

“Reappointing a receiver to ensure the former Banning Business Center becomes an available site for new businesses coming into the city is a goal of the city council, and will reduce blight in the community — just in time for the current development cycle ramping up in Banning,” says City Manager Doug Schulze.

Perspective parties interested in acquiring the site are encouraged to contact Rene Farjeat at Ontario-based Silver & Wright, LLP at (949) 281-6542.

The appointed receiver will have immediate access to the site and cooperation with coordination between city departments.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x 114.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

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