Trump to try to buy land himself

Donald Trump has dropped his demand that the city of Fresno buy all the land needed for the Running Horse development and will attempt to purchase most of it himself.

Mayor Alan Autry on Thursday announced Trump's plan to obtain options to purchase 436 acres of the partially completed golf course in southwest Fresno. Attorney Michael Cohen of The Trump Organization confirmed the proposal.

If the City Council signs off on the deal, the city would try to obtain the rest of the property and sell it back to Trump, Autry said.

"This is a dramatic step," he said.

It's not clear what caused The Trump Organization to change direction, but Trump's earlier position drew unanimous opposition from Fresno City Council.

Council members said they weren't willing for the city to accept the risk of buying all the property for Trump.

The council will be asked to approve an agreement for negotiations between Trump and the city on Monday, and possibly receive a contract for approval two weeks later.

Some council members said they now may be willing to back the proposal.

"It's the breakthrough we've been looking for," said Council Member Jerry Duncan. "The council has been talking about not shouldering the risk. This takes care of a lot of it."

Council Member Brian Calhoun said the city needs to finalize a security agreement to protect itself should Trump back out. But he's become more supportive following Thursday's announcement.

"It's good movement," he said. "It's not a deal yet. We've got to have that guarantee."

Lou Ginise, senior vice president for Pearson Commercial, a Fresno real estate firm, said Trump's most recent offer sounded like a good deal for the city.

"I think they ought to go along with that," said Ginise, adding that Trump's offer sounds "like a good-faith move."

Autry said the project will transform southwest Fresno with the addition of a golf course, a PGA tournament and high-end homes.

"This is The Trump Organization offering to buy property in the most distressed part of America," said Autry, noting that Fresno has been found to have the most concentrated poverty in the country.

Cohen said The Trump Organization has been talking to the holders of most of the Running Horse property. The parties include San Diego-based La Jolla Loans, which foreclosed on about 300 acres last month, and Scripps Investments & Loan Inc., which has three parcels -- including one of 67 acres -- headed into a trustee sale scheduled for late this month.

"We are speaking, and we're working on terms," Cohen said.

Officials with La Jolla could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Autry said Trump plans to obtain 90-day options on the properties, meaning he would have to buy the land within that period.

City Manager Andy Souza said the city still needs to reach a security agreement with Trump.

In negotiations with Trump, the city will ask for an agreement that limits its risk to the costs of buying land options, and any litigation that may arise.

The city will also ask Trump to put up at least $10 million to secure the city's investment in properties he doesn't buy outright, records show.

The city may face more difficulties with the properties it plans to buy for Trump. But the city has decided it will not use eminent domain, a government power to take property at market value, to obtain two properties with homes -- owned by Shigeo Hayashi and Anthony and Margaret Mello.

Autry said eminent domain could be used on other properties, although he said he preferred not to use that power.

Some council members said they won't support the use of eminent domain to complete the golf course.