Leader Blues

Thursday, November 01, 2007

TOP STORY >>Air base: We'll get housing finished

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

A new contractor could restart construction by next summer on the stalled housing-privatization project at Little Rock Air Force Base, Brig. General Rowayne Schatz told nearly 100 base residents at a Monday night town meeting.

Schatz said the new project would likely be less ambitious than the original, aiming at 659 new and remodeled homes instead of the 1,200 new and remodeled homes specified in the contract won by Carabetta Enterprises and Shaw Infrastructure in August 2004.

American Eagle Communities LLC—a Carabetta-Shaw company managed by Carabetta—should have completed 125 new homes by now, according to the general, but only 25 were finished when the bondholders on the $127 million project shut the job down in May.

They refused to release any more funds on a project behind schedule with cost overruns of perhaps 50 percent, Schatz said.
He said four potential developers, representatives of Shaw Infrastructure, the base and the bondholders toured the project last Thursday.

Carabetta Enterprises, the managing partner for the failed privatization efforts at LRAFB, Patrick, Hansom and Moody Air Force bases, is trying to sell the projects, the general said.

Carabetta sent no company representative to that tour, deferring to Shaw Infrastructure, its partner.

Schatz said that two of the four developers interested in bidding on the job had been successful with other privatization projects.

He said the optimum timeline would see a new deal concluded by the end of November, with construction ready to start next summer.


TWO-YEAR WAIT

Of occupancy of new structures, he suggested, “not tomorrow, not at Christmas, not next summer, but the summer after that.”

Monday night’s town meeting was intended to update interested base housing residents and also served as an opportunity for them to air gripes about bad conditions in the current base housing.

Schatz said that although American Eagle Communities owns the development, maintenance and management contract for the next 50 years, it is the bondholders who are driving the process.

The Air Force has input, but not a lot of control in the process at this point, he said.

This is not just another contract, where the base has leverage over the developers, Schatz said.

American Eagle works for the investors—the bondholders—and the lease agreement, not the wing commander, drives the project.

Some of the unpaid subcontractors have suggested that the Air Force needs to step in and pay them, but the Air Force is not a party to the agreement between the developer and the contractors, the general said.

He said that it was a misconception that American Eagle is getting nearly $1 million a month in rents. He said the money goes into a “lockbox” controlled by the bondholders.

The existing homes were conveyed to American Eagle. The Air Force owns the property, but not the houses built upon it.
“By law, no government funds may be spent on their operation, maintenance or construction,” he said.

Schatz did seem to promise some intervention where families were living in dangerous or questionable situations.


RESIDENTS COMPLAIN

Many of the occupants voiced complaints about various problems in the housing, which is 50 years old, ranging from insect infestations to exposed wiring and continually leaking or breaking pipes.

For now, American Eagle Com-munities still manages the onbase housing.

Dennis LaPorte was brought in last week as the new project manager, and he told residents to call him or his maintenance manager with any problems.

Angela Weaver, the wife of a National Guardsman just returned from Kuwait, complained about exposed wiring, mold, water damage and termite and other insect infestation.

Members and families of the National Guard and of retirees are allowed to rent homes on base from American Eagle because there are more houses than families wanting to live in them.