Front Sight project remains on hold (February 25, 2000)

No one lives on Second Amendment Drive yet.

The visionary developer who planned to build a firearms-themed residential subdivision near Pahrump — complete with SWAT towers and machine-gun ranges — is battling to keep the project on track.

But Front Sight Nevada founder Ignatius Piazza is not at war with gun-control advocates, neighbors, or county planners.

Instead, he’s fighting a gun-loving Republican fund-raiser — general contractor Frank Martin.

At stake are millions of dollars — and a scheme to overhaul the image of gun owners in the United States.

Construction at the 550-acre Front Sight development began last winter with plans that included 177 custom home lots, 13 shooting ranges, underground rescue tunnels, a small airport, and an armory full of weapons for firearms training. Martin entered into a contract to build the project in part because of his passionate interest in guns. A few short months later he filed a lawsuit alleging Piazza is in breach of contract and owes him more than $1.5 million for work performed.

Piazza’s January counterclaim alleges Martin-Harris Construction Co. mismanaged the job and cost him $6.4 million in lost investments.

Building on the site was stalled for more than seven months and resumed last month under a different contractor.

But the dispute has turned into a battle over more than money.

Both sides are vying for spin control among gun enthusiasts and business people. Piazza sent out a newsletter to more than 5,000 firearms students and investors explaining Martin’s alleged hostile actions. Martin is considering buying space in local newspapers to publish his rebuttal.

Initially, the two seemed like perfect partners.

Piazza was aiming the development at wealthy firearms enthusiasts who would prefer to live in a country club that features gun ranges rather than golf courses — a market he thinks is large and untapped. By locating it near a tourist destination such as Las Vegas, Piazza hoped the facility also would draw international visitors.

Martin is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association and the head of a Las Vegas construction company that is projecting $180 million in business this year. Furthermore, he regularly hosts political fund-raisers at his northwest Texas longhorn cattle ranch, the Bitter Root.

Let me make one thing very clear, Martin said. I am a passionate pro-gun enthusiast. Passionate.

The very first question I ask (political) candidates before I support them is whether they endorse gun control. If they would, or if they have ever even considered it, I won’t support them.

Martin held a fund-raiser for Gov. Kenny Guinn before the last election.

Additionally, Martin’s son, Guy, worked as a firearms instructor at Front Sight — which has been holding shooting courses at the desert location throughout the conflict.

Piazza, a California chiropractor who sold his practice to develop the Pahrump community, dreams of supplementing the work of the NRA by re-casting the image of the typical gun-toter.

We’re going to change the image of firearms ownership to the positive within 20 years, Piazza said. The only way to do this is to show it as something different than the expectations of anti-gun people.

During the last year, Front Sight has attracted the attention of media ranging from Good Morning America to the BBC to German Playboy, Piazza said.

They initially want to come out and write the story about the crazy chiropractor who is building a fort in the desert. But they end up instead with a story about safe, responsible gun ownership.

‘Good Morning America’ came out in November. They came out looking for Bubba and his militia buddies drinking beer and wearing swastikas, but they didn’t find it because it’s not here.

So it was with a common interest in bolstering weapons dogma that Piazza and Martin entered into a construction contract worth about $3 million in early 1999. But the two now differ on what exactly the terms of the arrangement were.

Piazza said Plan A was always to pay for the development with cash flow from his firearms training courses as well as from funds promised by sportsmen interested in owning homes in the development. Plan B was to call on a discreet European investor who would contribute $5 million in $1 million increments should it be needed.

Martin said Piazza promised up-front availability of the $5 million investor before the contract was signed.

When construction ran ahead of anticipated cash flow last spring, Piazza admits he fell behind on payments and says he intended to arrange for his deep-pocketed investor to step up. In the meantime, Piazza said he offered to pay Martin-Harris $600,000 to settle the bill.

He also offered to give Martin-Harris employees free firearms training and, Martin said, promised to name the SWAT tower after Frank Martin.

Martin said his project-related costs are close to $3 million while Front Sight’s are less than $500,000. He declined to settle. At the same time, Piazza said, Martin-Harris was guilty of not securing proper building permits from Nye and Clark counties, which caused construction to stop. Piazza also alleges that Martin-Harris trenched the access road to the site in a hostile attempt to prevent Front Sight’s ongoing business.

Martin-Harris denies any wrongdoing with regard to the permits or the road, and Martin said he refused to resume construction until the company was paid. Martin subsequently asked his son to quit his job.

I felt it was no longer physically safe (for Guy Martin) to work in that environment, Martin said. At any given point there are 30 to 200 students that have got a firearm out there. Knowing that a particular individual’s family is at odds with the facility puts him at risk …

Guy Martin resigned as a firearms instructor.

That’s not even worthy of a response, Piazza fired back.

We initially went to Martin-Harris knowing their slogan was ‘Discover Excellence.’ What we’ve discovered is incompetence. What we’ve discovered is greed and spite, Piazza said. Both sides said it will likely take a jury to resolve the matter.

This project was a no-brainer. The only brain-damaged part was him having no money to pay for it, Martin said. Gun enthusiasts like me are cut and dried, patriotic Americans. When someone misrepresents himself … it’s very difficult for him to revive trust.

Piazza said students continue to be served at the site, and he has secured investors to continue progress on the development, although he may reorganize the corporation to protect its assets.

The original target date for completing the development was October 1999. Now, Piazza says, he hopes to have the $10 million first phase completed by December 2000.

This issue with Martin-Harris is just a pain in the neck, Piazza said. Anyone who has ever hired a contractor to remodel their house knows what we’re going through.

But people need to know that it is not a question of if we’re going to build a resort-quality firearms training facility, but only how long it will take.

Source: Stacy J. Willis, Las Vegas Sun