Local

One of Fresno’s oldest buildings was to get DA as new tenant. Now plans on hold

A delay in obtaining tax-credit financing is threatening plans for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office to relocate into the historic Rowell Building, shown in a September 2017 file photo. The building is at Tulare Street and Van Ness Avenue.
A delay in obtaining tax-credit financing is threatening plans for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office to relocate into the historic Rowell Building, shown in a September 2017 file photo. The building is at Tulare Street and Van Ness Avenue. Fresno Bee file

A developer’s delay in obtaining needed tax credits is threatening a 10-year, $15 million deal for Fresno County to lease the historic Rowell Building in downtown Fresno.

The arrangements negotiated last fall to move the District Attorney’s Office into the 105-year-old building aren’t dead, but rather on hold. The building is owned by River Park Properties III, a partnership led by longtime Fresno developer Ed Kashian and his company, Lance-Kashian & Co. The partnership bought the building in 2014.

County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau confirmed Tuesday that his office received a letter late last month from the building ownership canceling the lease. But, he added, the county remains hopeful that the deal can be resurrected so the relocation of the DA’s offices can move forward.

The six-story building is perched at the southeast corner of Tulare Street and Van Ness Avenue. With about 73,000 square feet of office space, the building is big enough to house operations of District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp’s department that are now scattered among several other locations in downtown and other parts of the city.

Rowell map
Downtown Fresno’s historic Rowell Building could become home to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office in 2018, but delays in the owner receiving tax-credit financing threatens the 10-year lease agreement reached last year. TIM SHEEHAN tsheehan@fresnobee.com

The county’s Board of Supervisors approved the lease agreement in September with hopes that extensive renovation work by the developer would be largely completed in time for attorneys and staff to move in this summer. The 10-year lease includes an option for the county to buy the building or extend the lease for a second 10 years.

Language in the lease states that it is conditional on River Park Park Properties receiving at least $8 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits as part of the financing package, but also allows Kashian to terminate the lease if the credits were not hand by Feb. 1. The NMTC program is intended to encourage development in low-income communities. It allows qualified real estate projects or businesses to raise money by offering investors a tax credit as an incentive for capital investment.

“When the Board of Supervisors approved this in the fall, we all assumed that this was a done deal, that they had the tax credits in hand, and we were moving forward,” Rousseau said Tuesday. “But there were some delays with tax reform  and because of a level of uncertainty about whether they were going to get it, Lance-Kashian felt it needed to exercise that provision and cancel the lease.”

Representatives of Kashian’s company could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The tax credits were targeted for repeal under the tax reform proposal put forth by the House of Representatives in December, but were included in the Senate version. They were ultimately preserved for 2018 and 2019 in legislation signed by President Donald Trump.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said he’s in a wait-and-see mode over the building. “It’s not a dead deal or something where we take our ball and go home. Hopefully it’s just a temporary pause or hiccup,” Wright said. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Rousseau said he, too, hopes the tax credits come through for Kashian and the Rowell Building. But there is a backup plan – the county-owned Crocker Building at the northwest corner of Fresno and L streets. The four-story building has been used in recent years for the county’s Department of Social Services, but those workers are being relocated to the Pelco by Schneider Electric campus in Clovis as part of a broader consolidation of that department. “We’ve always had the Crocker Building as fallback option for the DA just in case we couldn’t come to an agreement.”

The Rowell Building opened in 1913 and is on the city of Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources. It is located across Tulare Street from the Fresno County Courthouse.

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