Thursday, June 22, 2006

Five Rivers Resort, R.I.P.; developer still says we've got it all wrong

Today was the deadline for the City of Oshkosh to essentially make up its mind about what some believe could have been our city’s saving grace along the riverfront. That deadline came and went, and the city stuck to its guns by not caving in to one man's demands. So as the curtain closes on yet another act in the two-year melodrama known as the Five Rivers Resort project, that man - would-be developer Tom Doig - continues to insist that the City of Oshkosh is backwards and out of step with the banking and development world.

According to a story in the online version of the Oshkosh Northwestern, despite the $60 million dollar project sinking in Oshkosh, Doig insists it will be built somewhere, and in the manner he and his Florida real estate investment broker/partner believe to be the norm – evidently with a community ponying up millions of dollars in assistance and the project proceeding forward with a developer’s agreement in hand first, before a commitment of any up-front financing, including the absence of any investor equity. I wish him luck; he's going to need it, because those expectations are both unrealistic and ridiculous, unless you're dealing with a community which is completely naive and totally desperate.

The article says Doig continues to believe that “the Oshkosh Common Council and city Redevelopment Authority continuously received one-sided information from the city that never opened their eyes to what he considers the reality of the condominium-hotel market.” If anyone’s eyes are closed I think it’s Mr. Doig’s. Clearly, this man either continues to be in denial about redevelopment projects or he simply has not been around too many communities to see how things are done.

A quick Internet search will enlighten him to the way most, if not all, communities approach redevelopment projects. Moreover, he will also find that many such projects are done without the benefit of any public funding. Here Mr. Doig stood to receive about $16 million from us – had he been able to hold up his end of the bargain.

As far as the council or RDA receiving only one-sided information, I have seen a lot of the exchanges between the different parties in this matter. If anything, things seemed to me to often lean too much in Mr. Doig’s favor, not the opposite. The reality of the situation is Doig couldn’t deliver on what he promised the city; he apparently couldn’t convince traditional lenders to “buy into” his concept; and when he found someone to finance a large chunk of his “personal dream,” he wouldn’t even be completely forthcoming with them by sharing the term sheet he had been given by the city, not just once, but twice. And as said in the past, if Doig truly felt the request for having up-front financing before a developer’s agreement was in place was so out of step with the rest of the banking and development world, why did he not speak up sooner than just one week ago?

As to the “reality of the condominium-hotel market,” all Mr. Doig needs to do is read real estate publications, local newspapers from a variety of communities, scan the Internet or follow the links presented in a number of blog sites on such ventures and he will see that the type of project he proposed, while it may have tremendous potential, must be done right in order to be successful. More and more facilities like what he proposed are failing. So what was so different about Five Rivers that it would not only succeed, but create an economic impact that was “beyond the wildest dreams” of the Oshkosh community?

Indeed, Mr. Doig should open his own eyes – or at least take off the rose-colored glasses covering them – and be more realistic in his approach to such a project in the future. Along with that he should be honest with all those involved and include ALL partners, including the public partners who often may be unwitting ones. And above everything else, Mr. Doig might want to resign himself to the fact that just as information about his rebuffed project in Gladstone, Mich. followed him here, the last two years of his dealings in Oshkosh will follow him elsewhere. And in this age of the Internet, instant media, community journalism and public blogging, don’t think the next community will have to search very long or hard to find out what went wrong here.

- Cheryl Hentz

P.S. The episode of Eye on Oshkosh currently running features Oshkosh Common Councilor Bryan Bain in a discussion about the Five Rivers Resort project. Despite the fact that this project is, for all intents and purposes, dead, the information shared during the discussion is interesting and still worth checking out. I suspect the project will be officially dead when the council votes on the resolution Tuesday evening to formally rescind the term sheet offered to developer Tom Doig and start looking for new development ideas. Bain is also asking for the public's input about new development ideas for the property along the Fox River previously earmarked for Five Rivers. Visit his blog here and give him your thoughts; or just read his and others' comments to see what they're thinking.


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