Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | The future of Gaylord Entertainment’s massive bay-front development in Chula Vista looked thoroughly cloudy Monday night, as stalled labor negotiations imperiled the convention center and hotel project.

Late Monday, an organized labor group sent out a press release saying that Gaylord had “reportedly” pulled out of the Chula Vista project. A Gaylord spokesman dismissed the release as “speculation.”

The central issue between Gaylord and the region’s organized labor is who would be hired to work on the project’s construction if it goes ahead. Union groups want an agreement that would ensure union workers are hired for the project’s 6,500 jobs.

The back-and-forth between the two sides Monday highlighted the precarious nature of the labor negotiations and sent officials throughout the South Bay scrambling to find out whether the project had been killed.

Officials offered varying assessments.

Irene McCormack, a Unified Port of San Diego spokeswoman, said the port district was “confident that talks will resume.”

Denny Stone, Chula Vista’s economic development officer, said Gaylord had not yet backed out, but that the project was in peril. Stone was in a meeting with the San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council when someone outside gave him the labor group’s press release. He suggested the release was a negotiating tactic and called it inflammatory.

“Unless something changes, this is heading south,” Stone said. “Something needs to change on this issue on contracting, or they will pull out.”

As of early evening, the project appeared to still be alive — but on life support. Gaylord’s board of directors had a meeting scheduled to discuss the project’s future, but local officials did not know what had resulted. The Gaylord spokesman would not comment, other than to say that the Nashville-based company had not made any announcements.

Stone said the union’s demand would result in an “extraordinarily restrictive bidding process” that would effectively exclude non-union contractors and workers from the project. Gaylord says the lack of competition could increase the billion-dollar project’s cost by $50 million to $75 million.

In the release, Tom Lemmon, the building council’s business manager, spoke about Gaylord’s involvement in past tense.

“We told Gaylord that we needed a commitment that the jobs would go to the taxpayers who are underwriting the development, and that Gaylord cannot ignore environmental laws. Gaylord refused,” Lemmon said. “It is Gaylord’s choice not to develop this rare, unique coastal property. They are walking away because they are unwilling to commit to a project that works for our entire community.”

Chula Vista City Councilman John McCann said his city was a spectator hoping Gaylord and labor officials could work out an arrangement.

“We’re trying to get both sides back together and the Gaylord project is a very important project to Chula Vista and the region,” he said. “We obviously know there’s tension between the parties and we encourage them to work through it.”

The proposed development would transform Chula Vista’s marshy banks on San Diego Bay into a bustling recreational and hospitality complex, including a 400,000-square-foot convention center, one of the county’s largest hotels, about 2,000 condos that would tower up to 200 feet high, a modernized marina and a signature park. Wetlands in the proximity of the development would also be restored.

If Gaylord did walk away from the deal it would jettison a public subsidy of at least $308 million to help pay for the convention center and related infrastructure.

While labor groups have expressed concern about the plan, so have environmentalists, who met last week with Gaylord officials. Environmentalists have offered worries about the project’s impacts on a nearby marsh, its effects on water quality and what they describe as its lack of a plan to deal with affordable housing for the workforce.

Their meeting with Gaylord did not go well, said Laura Hunter, spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition.

“Frankly, I was surprised by the posture they were taking relating to our issues,” Hunter said. “They said they have significant philosophical differences about whether a project has to offset its impacts to the surrounding community.”

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