CEO hopes Wheatfields will be boon to community

Sharna Johnson

Emerging from the tangles of bankruptcy with his nearly-failed project resurrected, Seasons Management CEO Eric Jacobsen says it is his hope to see Wheatfields Assisted Living Facility become a boon to the community.

The senior center on North Prince Street is beginning to show signs of life nearly five years after construction started, then stopped, leaving the building incomplete and overgrown with weeds.

Just this past weekend the Wheatfields, now 85 percent complete and gearing up for occupants as early as Oct. 1, hosted an open house, providing tours and information to visitors.

But there was a time when Jacobsen wasn’t sure he would be there to see the assisted living facility he’d spent years planning come to fruition.

“I have a lot of my own sweat and time and capital in the thing,” he said. “I guess the unfortunate thing is I chose a partner who was on unstable financial ground.”

Jacobsen’s original partner in the Wheatfields project was Sunwest Management Inc.

The 2008 collapse of senior housing giant Sunwest swept multiple properties and investors along with it into bankruptcy and led to a 2009 accusation by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had defrauded investors.

Construction on Wheatfields began in the winter of 2006, a multi-million dollar project that was to feature 64 assisted living apartments, 10 retirement cottages and 24 Alzheimer’s accommodations with 24-hour nursing care and group meals available for all residents.

By 2008 local contractors were filing liens — more than $3 million worth, some eventually paid, some not — and both the cash flow and project came to a halt.

Jacobsen said at the first sign of Sunwest’s financial trouble, he began talking with the lender for the project and trying to navigate the courts in order to separate the Clovis project from the bankruptcy and save it, with no success.

“It was a really difficult project because of the nature of the Sunwest bankruptcy,” he said.

Eventually, he said he found another investor with whom he had a long-standing relationship —Vancouver, Washington’s VPS7 — that was willing to buy the foreclosed facility in a cash transaction and move forward with the original plan.

After purchasing the property, VPS7 placed Wheatfields back in the hands of Jacobsen and Seasons Management, and has given him a purchase option, because, he said, they saw his involvement as positive.

He estimated the project will have cost around $8 million when all is said and done.

Jacobsen said even though the project was saved, he recognizes the ripple caused by the collapse as it was originally structured.

“Nationally there were many people harmed by the implosion of Sunwest, not just contractors, but residents and employees. There are a lot of sad stories that came out of the Sunwest implosion, and I’m one of them. After 10 years (planning), we’re essentially starting over again,” he said.

“If there were ways to make reparations, I am the type of person that would want to do that… We want to do it right this time and make sure that any of the commitments we make, we live up to.”

The facility can accommodate 110 residents and will employ about 80 personnel and offer competitive salaries, Jacobsen said.

Though economic impact estimates are still being compiled, he said it will spend more than $1 million a year just in terms of wages and supplies. He also believes by adding a senior living facility to the community it will help in the recruitment of medical specialists to the community and fields that support geriatric community members.

Wheatfields recognizes that earning back the confidence of local vendors and contractors who lost money in the original construction is a challenge they will have to overcome, said Seasons spokesman Rick De La Cruz. But he said that was a different company and a different scenario.

“We’re happy to be here, we really are,” he said. “We’re committed to the community.”

Of the 60 individuals who had given $100 deposits before the project halted, De La Cruz said he has personally contacted each and offered to credit their deposits if they still wish to reside at the facility.

About 75 percent of those have either moved, changed plans or passed away, but some have expressed an interest in the facility, Jacobsen said.

De La Cruz said the facility has plans to coordinate programs with Clovis Community College and Clovis High School and intends to have a presence that stimulates the community and gives trained personnel incentive to stay in the area to work.