CHOWCHILLA -- City officials are embarking on a project that makes Chowchilla sound more like a theme park than a small Central Valley city -- but behind the proposed development is a man who failed at a similar endeavor in Tulare.
An agreement between the city and a developer -- CHWDC Inc. -- was unanimously passed by the council Sept. 12 and calls for about 580 acres along the Highway 99-Highway 152 corridor to be turned into a bustling economic powerhouse.
City documents claim the project, which includes plans for retail, hotels, entertainment, a race track, amusement and leisure options, could create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and 600 temporary ones during design and construction.
The lofty plan has been met with support by many city officials -- but there is some skepticism about the proposal.
Never miss a local story.
Chowchilla only has a work force of about 4,000 people, but the plans show the development will project a sphere of influence north of Merced and south of Fresno -- influence that would supposedly bring jobs and an improved economy.
Bud Long, president of the recently formed CHWDC, tried to jump-start a comparable development in Tulare in 2007 that would have included several key parts, including hotels and a race track.
But the project was abandoned because of a lack of commitment and communication by the developer. The proposal had faced challenges since Long's Tulare Motor Sports Complex allegedly defaulted on a $1.06 million loan and a $303,203 loan, sparking a lawsuit by a Fresno bank, according to a 2009 story in the Tulare Voice.
Issues between the city and Tulare Motor Sports Complex are ongoing.
The organization filed a claim against the city for $9 million, said Don Dorman, Tulare's city manager. The city rejected the claim, and no lawsuit has yet been filed.
"Simply because of that pending matter, we can't comment on anything else that's going on," said Dorman, who's been in his position for two months.
Despite several efforts, the Sun-Star was unable to contact Long.
Even with Long's failure in Tulare, Chowchilla councilman Dennis Haworth said the city saw an opportunity to bring growth to the city, and is looking into the proposal by CHWDC.
He stressed that no city funds have been invested in the project. "Right now, we're looking at different developments, and this is one that came to us," Haworth said. "If it works out, it works out."
As the project progresses, the city plans on moving forward cautiously when it comes to finances relating to the deal, he said. "We finally have a structurally balanced budget, so before we can put any money in, we'd have to go into a lot more detail," Haworth said. "And that goes for any kind of project like that."
There's a chance of the city offering incentives to attract business to the area, but that's a possibility that will be talked about later, he added. Officials are willing to communicate with developers, just as long as the proposals aren't damaging to the city.
"People bring a project that's going to bring jobs to our community and are asking for the city to just work with them without any exchange of money," Haworth noted.
If everything goes according to plan, Long's project would be a massive economic stimulant for the Central Valley.
But if history repeats itself, the project will be 580 acres of disappointment.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.