On Tuesday, March 19, the City Council unanimously told James Rogers, the chief executive officer of Spirit of California, that he must adequately answer questions about his past business dealings or risk the city ending negotiations regarding his planned amusement park, racetrack and casino center.
Rogers is operating under an exclusive negotiating agreement between the city and Tracy Blast LLC, but said he needs to establish one between the city and Spirit of California to move the project forward.
Following a meeting that included raised voices, Mayor Brent Ives said, “It’s time for push to come to shove.”
“There’s so much at stake,” he said. “It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever done. … We can’t work on benefit of the doubt any more.”
During the meeting, Ives agreed with city staff members that Rogers’ explanations of several liens and lawsuits, as well as a business bankruptcy, were too vague.
Staff asked Rogers in a Feb. 7 letter to describe the status, officers and purpose of seven companies and his involvement with them, as well as his connection to 10 liens, five lawsuits and the bankruptcy of Lexington Consulting Inc.
Rogers wrote a Feb. 20 letter to the city stating that either the companies in question are inactive or the liens and lawsuits against them have been resolved or are near resolution. He also wrote that the 2012 bankruptcy of Lexington Consulting was filed solely “to assist one of my investors.”
“None of the issues over the last 15 years have any effect on my ability to manage the Tracy project,” he wrote. “In fact, my conflict resolution experience will only enhance my ability to bring the Tracy project to completion.”
Rogers said liens and lawsuits are part of his job.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “You don’t have to be fraudulent to be involved in litigation.”
Though all five council members said the project could provide employment, entertainment and revenue opportunities to the city, they balked at entering a new negotiating agreement with Spirit of California.
They decided instead to give Rogers 30 days to provide more detailed answers.
City staff will have 30 days after that to review the information and was directed to meet with Rogers or his representatives once every two weeks until the matter is returned to the council for a decision.
“You have got to prove to us that this project is viable,” Ives told Rogers, pointing to several residents who spoke in favor of the project. “It’s incumbent on you to do that, not just for us, but for those people out there. This is a game-changer — this is a big deal to us. We could be the fathers of something wonderful or something that is terrible.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel warned Rogers he was running out of opportunities to sway the council.
“My feeling is that if this council agrees tonight to give you 30 days to answer these issues, that this is the last chance,” he said. “That would be, if we do this, an opportunity to rehabilitate yourself in the eyes of this council and regain some of that confidence.”
Rogers agreed to provide as much information as possible within that time.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said after the meeting. “I’ve never done anything fraudulent where you wouldn’t want to deal with me.”
He also was confident he would be able to satisfy the council.
“I think it is their (council members’) objective to be looking out for the city,” he said. “It may seem contentious, but I took it as the appropriate way the City Council should approach it.”
Rogers told the council he knows of at least $300 million that could be used to fund the project, though he also said the money is not yet committed. He said his larger investors want financial projections that would be ready as early as April, as well as more assurance from the city, before they formally sign on.
He added after the meeting that about 15 Tracy residents have invested at least $5,000 each in the project.
While Ives sees great promise in Rogers’ proposal, he said he and the other council members feel a duty to tread carefully and protect the city and its residents.
“That local investor piece is huge for the council,” he said. “People are placing their trust in him.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 835-3030 or email@example.com.
At a glance
• WHAT: Tracy City Council regular meeting
• WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19
• WHERE: City Hall, 333 Civic Center Plaza
• DETAILS: Mayor Brent Ives, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel and council members Charles Manne, Robert Rickman and Nancy Young were present.