In November 2010, the members of the American Legion Post 820 in Imperial Beach, Calif., voted overwhelmingly against a plan to replace their existing, ramshackle, windowless Legion hall with a new one plus 30 apartments for low-income seniors and veterans.
It seemed like the collapse of months of planning. “It was heartbreaking,” says Ginger Hitzke, president of Hitzke Development Corp., based in San Marcos, Calif.
But the failed vote was just the beginning. Hitzke continued meeting with the American Legion members. She paid for them to hire their own lawyer to go over the deal. She listened and answered questions. They then voted to go forward. Construction started in May on The Post.
Every deal Hitzke Development has taken on seems more difficult than the last. “There is some story to everything we do,” says Hitzke.
In 2006, Hitzke had left her job at affordable housing developer Affirmed Housing where she had been since 1996, starting as an administrative assistant and working her way to up to become vice president of development. She had a simple plan: Her new development company would concentrate on small, relatively simple projects.
It didn’t stay simple for long. In 2007, Hitzke took on the redevelopment of 4 acres notorious for crime and drugs near the center of her hometown of San Marcos.
Hitzke made a habit of visiting with the existing owner to convince him to allow the deal to go forward after the city tried and failed to condemn the property. “He finally agreed to sell,” she says.
More challenges lay ahead for the property, now called Autumn Court. “I got my reservation of tax credits the day that Lehman collapsed,” she says. “That whole last quarter of 2008 I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me.”
Fortunately, she had budgeted conservatively for the project. She had also been able to convince city officials to approve extra support for the deal. So when Boston Capital offered $0.71 on the dollar for the tax credits in February 2009, the development was able to go forward.
Just a few months later, Hitzke drove past the ruins of a failed 60-unit condo development in Desert Hot Springs. Hacienda Hills had been seized twice. First the construction lender took the property from its failed developer. Then the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized the property from its failed bank.
“Dozens of developers had looked at the project, but no one could figure out how to put it together,” says Brenda Champy, Boston Capital’s director of acquisitions. “Ginger pieced together a viable financial deal using New Issue Bonds, Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, and funding from the city.”
“Ginger exudes tenacity,” says Alfred Fraijo Jr., a partner with Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP.
For her next trick, Hitzke plans to redevelop another crime-ridden parcel in downtown San Marcos.
“Why can’t I just be a normal human being and do something cookie cutter?” she says.