Gaithersburg day-labor center falls through

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Plans to open a day-laborer center at the Festival at Muddy Branch shopping center in Gaithersburg, approved just two weeks ago, have fallen through.

Nellis Corporation, the Rockville-based owner of the center, backed out of negotiations to lease a vacant storefront for the center after hearing ‘‘unanimous strong disapproval” from several current Festival tenants at a meeting this morning, according to a statement issued by Gaithersburg City Manager David B. Humpton.

The 1,200-square-foot storefront was endorsed by city officials earlier this month as an acceptable day-laborer center site, and is the only location that city leaders have supported this year.

The breakdown of the deal is the latest in a string of obstacles the city has faced in trying to establish a center in cooperation with the county government.

The city has pursued 30 sites in the last year, but landlords have shied from leasing their properties for a day-laborer center. Residents and business owners have also objected to several proposed locations.

A day-laborer center would serve an estimated 75 workers who gather in Gaithersburg each morning to find work — most of them are Latino and many of them are illegal immigrants.

‘‘While we are disappointed that this potential location is no longer available to us, I respect Nellis Corporation’s concern for their tenants and understand that this is a business decision,” Humpton said in the statement.

About half the 50 tenants at the Festival attended a meeting this morning with Nellis President Randall Levitt who said he provided city and county responses to concerns raised by the tenants earlier this month.

After an hour and a half, Levitt said, the message was clear.

‘‘We’ve said from the beginning that the most important voice we ought to listen to ... would be our tenants,” he said in an interview. ‘‘In the end, with one exception — a person who was neither strongly for nor against — everyone who spoke urged us not to go forward.”

Asked what the city will do next, Humpton said, ‘‘We’re going to look at various options,” but declined to elaborate.