Senator tower deal snagged

Building owner Eric Hart’s plans to rebuild the Senator Theater tower may be doomed. According to Tony Baptiste, Chico’s community development director, the $320,000 loan the city granted Hart a few weeks ago to replace the tower might have an added stipulation because of a state law that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

That law says any wages paid out of this loan, which comes out of the city’s redevelopment funds, must meet the prevailing wage, which is calculated according to the most prevalent pay in a region. For instance, out of a pool of 10 carpenters, if three make $15 an hour, three earn $15.50 and four made $24, the $24 is considered the prevailing wage. Chico, by the way, is in a region that includes high-cost San Francisco.

Baptiste emphasized that the city’s exact interpretation of the law is still up in the air and the project could still go forward as planned.

Former owner United Artists tore down the 70-year-old art-deco tower in 1999. Four sections of the tower were then hauled to the city maintenance yard for storage. The city issued the demolition permit on the assurance that UA would replace the distinctive tower in a timely manner. If UA did not comply, the city had the right to refuse the movie company the right to occupy the building. But two years ago Hart purchased the theater, which meant the city no longer had leverage to force the rebuilding of the tower.

Two weeks ago Hart was granted his loan and expressed his plans to make the building whole again by re-erecting the tower that was a Chico skyline landmark since 1929. Hart said he is waiting to see what happens next month. "I have people ready to go on that building. Now, we’ll just have to see."