Las Vegas SUN

July 16, 1999 at 13:54:41 PDT

Funding fight puts firearms training facility in jeopardy

By Stacy J. Willis
[email protected] and Grace Leong

Financial problems have surfaced in the development of a visionary firearms training facility and residential subdivision near Pahrump.

Construction at Front Sight, a 550-acre residential project meant to appeal to upscale gun enthusiasts, started early this year with plans that included custom home lots, 13 shooting ranges, a rappeling wall, a SWAT tower, and a small airport.

But today the bulldozers are quiet — and troubles are mounting for developer Ignatius Piazza, a California chiropractor turned firearms training specialist.

Front Sight is being sued by contractors for nonpayment; it has been sanctioned by the Bureau of Land Management for failing to comply with environmental guidelines; it is still wrangling with Clark County to get necessary building permits, and its original target completion date of October has been set back.

Whenever a project starts and then stops, people start to get fidgety, and I'm sure there are some questions about whether (Front Sight) is short on cash, project engineer David Dwyer said. But I have complete confidence that it is going to come through.

Although construction stopped this spring because the correct building permits had not been obtained from Clark County, the general contractor said he will not resume work until arrangements are made to pay him more than $1.5 million that is allegedly owed for work already performed.

We're not going to restart construction as things stand now. I would not be a prudent businessman if I incurred any more debt, said Frank Martin, owner of general contractor Martin-Harris construction company. Mr. Piazza owes us money. When we started this project, he had a source of funds, but that source has dried up midway. We started on the good faith that he had that source. He has assured me that he is working on another source, but I don't know what that source is, Martin said. I've sent him a letter that says we'll start rolling within 10 days of him identifying another solid source of funding, and not before then.

Subcontractor Las Vegas Paving Corp. initially filed an $800,000 lawsuit seeking to foreclose on the project earlier this month. Martin said his company will join that suit, raising the amount owed to more than $1.5 million.

Piazza said the lawsuit makes the project's problems look worse than they are.

It is true that we still owe Martin-Harris money, Piazza said. But we have ongoing arrangements with Martin-Harris, and we won't allow the project to be foreclosed on. We are confident that the concerns that caused the (lawsuit) will be handled shortly ... This kind of thing happens on projects of this size all the time.

But the contractors said that it is unusual in their business to be owed large amounts and not know of a secure funding source.

This is a visionary project, and I've had confidence in (Piazza) since the day I met him, but unfortunately, there is a problem: Does he have the money to finish it? I don't know, Martin said.

We did some work, and we had to lien to get paid, and we haven't gotten paid yet, Golden Welch, Las Vegas Paving Company contract manager said. So we're turning up the heat on them.

Front Sight also incurred more than $30,000 worth of environmental sanctions this spring, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The site, about 10 miles east of Pahrump, straddles the Clark-Nye county line and is surrounded by BLM land. In March, a BLM inspector found that workers had violated the terms of their work permit in a number of ways — Mojave yuccas were not being salvaged properly, construction had exceeded the right-of-way in a manner that threatens the habitat of the endangered desert tortoise, and Front Sight failed to hire a certified wildlife biologist to monitor wildlife on the site.

Front Sight was charged $587 per acre of disturbed desert tortoise habitat and $50 per nonsalvaged yucca. The developer is disputing the yucca claims. Piazza declined to discuss Front Sight’s finances in detail, but he is confident that money will be flowing into the project soon. But we are attempting to do it without securing debt, Piazza said. Numerous investor-types are interested. It's just disappointing that we've had this delay.

Piazza is aiming the development at wealthy firearms enthusiasts who would rather live in a country club environment that features gun ranges and rappeling walls than golf courses — a market he thinks is large and untapped. By locating it near a tourist destination such as Las Vegas, Piazza hopes the one-of-a-kind facility also will draw international visitors. In February, Piazza said he planned to fund Front Sight with the proceeds from his firearms training courses in Bakersfield Calif., as well as from funds promised by gun enthusiasts interested in owning lots at the Nevada development. Instead of directly selling the 1-acre lots, Piazza intends to sell memberships to the exclusive community — with the highest level of membership, the $200,000 Platinum Membership, including a lot in the Front Sight subdivision.

More than 25 such memberships had been spoken for, but there was no large single-source investor in the project, he said. We have some very minimal investors, Piazza said in February. Nobody with large deep pockets is funding this project.

Front Sight held two seminars in Las Vegas and several free submachine gun training courses on the site near Pahrump in order to pump up interest in the gun club and to get locals to pre-purchase courses.

Courses that are open to the public range from the Defensive Handgun course, which costs $500, to the Handgun Master Prep course, which costs $1,200.

The institute's funding base began with the First Family membership program, which cost $5,000 per initial member. Front Sight’s first and only other firearms facility was opened in Bakersfield in 1996.

We have had a 300 percent growth in our student base each year, Piazza said in February, when the student base was some 3,000 members large. The first phase of construction was priced at $10 million. Piazza planned to develop a second and third phase somewhere down the line, expecting platinum memberships to be in higher demand by then — going for $500,000 each, he said.

The original target completion date for the Front Sight development was October, 1999, but that has been pushed back.

But we're still planning the grand opening before the end of the year, Piazza said.

Dwyer said that the gun ranges may be operational, but much of the rest of the development will not be finished.

I don't see any way the buildings will be complete by the end of the year, Dwyer said. But it will be an operational facility. There will be a lot of buildings that are still under construction.

Clark County officials said they are awaiting proper applications from Front Sight engineers prior to issuing building permits.

This project has been slow — I don't know if it's that they're getting bogged down in paperwork, or if they are getting low on cash at the present time, said Jeanne Wondra, Clark County Public Works official.

There is one thing I want to make clear, Piazza said. Front Sight is going to finish this project.

All contents copyright 1999 Las Vegas SUN, Inc.

A Message from Front Sight’s President:

We appreciate your interest in this article and willingly place it on our website for all to see. We feel this is the right thing to do because Front Sight is founded on principles of integrity and a core purpose to serve our student's needs.

The article raises two legitimate issues about which all students and supporters of Front Sight should have more complete information. The first issue is the onsite grading permit and the second issue is funding.

Permits: Responsible parties hired by Front Sight failed to secure the onsite grading permit and failed to comply with BLM environmental regulations. This resulted in Clark County and BLM stopping work on the site after significant onsite grading had already been completed. The project has been idle since the stop work order was issued. Until the grading permit is secured, no work can be done onsite. We are advised that the grading permit will be issued shortly. Presuming that there will be no further permit delays, we are selecting our best funding source and will work to resume construction immediately.

Funding: Front Sight started this project with a 5 million dollar commitment from a First Family member. Even with the commitment, our goal has always been to build Front Sight with cash flow and not rely on any funding sources. As very rapid onsite grading began, we paid in full for all aspects of the construction. When it appeared that the rapid construction was proceeding ahead of our anticipated cash flow, we requested delivery of the first one million dollars in funding. There was a reasonable delay in the delivery of the funds. During the same time that the delivery of the funds was delayed, we were informed by Clark County that the on site grading permit was never secured. The stop work order was brought to the attention of all concerned, including our initial funding source. I'm sure you understand the legitimate concern that our funding source raised over these issues. During this down time, we have continued to communicate with our initial funding source and have identified additional funding sources. We are in the final stages of due diligence with these sources and look forward to responding quickly when the permit issues are resolved.

Front Sight has received tremendously positive publicity from media sources all over the world. Some of which you will find posted on this site. The facts are 95% correct as presented in the Las Vegas Sun article. However, permit snags and financial delays are more common in large projects (especially "visionary" projects) than most people are aware. As one of our consultants, who specializes in the funding of golf resorts states, "40% of all the golf resort projects I have ever been involved with have permit and funding glitches throughout the development. They all get built and the golfers and members enjoy the finished project just as much as those at resorts that sailed through construction without any delays." Front Sight does not see the current situation placing the project in jeopardy as the title of the article states. This is simply a delay that will be resolved shortly.

You can be sure that Front Sight will continue to provide our full schedule of courses as listed in our brochure. We are very profitable every month, continue to grow at a rate of 300% per year and will resolve both issues presented in this article as soon as bureaucracy and the funding source selection will allow. Front Sight has come a long way in a short time. We will build the most complete firearms training facility in the world and we will do it in resort style with no short cuts or compromises.

As always, I am available to speak with our First Family, students, and supporters.

Again, all course scheduling remains intact and we look forward to providing our world class courses of instruction in Bakersfield and Las Vegas as outlined in this year's brochure. Also watch our monthly reports for additional Progress Celebrations to be held on the Las Vegas site in September. We are planning another series of Free Submachine Gun courses for the hundreds of new students who have attended our regular courses since May and an M16 course for the 3000 students who have previously attended the subgun course.

Dr. Ignatius Piazza

Founder and Director
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute