Developers of railroad themed 10th Street plaza bow out

October 06, 2004
Santa Paula News

The developers who planned to build a railroad themed retail center bowed out of the project after failing to attract tenants and their plan to build fast food restaurants on the parcel was rejected by city staff.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe developers who planned to build a railroad themed retail center bowed out of the project after failing to attract tenants and their plan to build fast food restaurants on the parcel was rejected by city staff.Heidt & Heidt Development had conditioned the escrow on finding tenants for the proposed development on the 1.14-acre 10th Street parcel opposite Railroad Avenue.Plans had called for 21,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops, among other proposed uses that the Heidts were hoping would include present Santa Paula merchants.The Heidts had armed themselves with marketing materials for a recent International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas and worked with area merchants.“It is not surprising that the development did not materialize,” said listing Broker/Realtor Kay Wilson-Bolton, owner of Century 21 Buena Vista. “Our lack of ability to attract retail enterprises has everything to do with our lack of buying power. Hardly any Santa Paula retailer could pay $2 to $2.50 per square foot, which a project like this requires, but national retailers can.”Although several national retailers did look at the site, they “turned Santa Paula down due to lack of economy. Even indicating to them that Fagan Canyon was on the drawing board was not enough. To the last, they said ‘Show us roof tops and we’ll be there.’ ”City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted whenever the city’s Redevelopment Agency deals with developers it brings a “mix of issues,” including use, subsidies and timing. “As we worked with the Heidts it became clear that those components weren’t coming together.”The use issue became critical when the Heidts changed “completely the initial focus to putting two fast food restaurants on the property. I indicated to them as we’re looking to the redevelopment of the Railroad Corridor area that would not be a likely use.”
Although city staff had initially been excited with the Heidts’ concept, “why we’re certainly prepared and have the resources to be helpful, the city has to invest its resources in the most strategic way possible.”Bobkiewicz noted that Oxnard is investing about $2 million to draw Frys, the mega-electronic retailer, to its city based on economic returns.“You try to weigh the investment with the return,” as well as how any development fits in what a city is trying to do with the area overall.In the case of the Heidts, “we were not able to get to a point where we were able to balance all those issues…their firm is the caliber of folks we want to deal with and their interest bodes well for Santa Paula,” Bobkiewicz noted.Tenth Street and Railroad Avenue is considered a prime destination geared to tourism and “we have to be very careful of what projects” are placed along the railroad corridor.With retail/commercial space in Santa Paula averaging $1 a square foot, the Heidts, who visited many area businesses pitching the new plaza, could not generate local tenants.But Bobkiewicz said that the city is “seeing people for the first time rolling up their sleeves and getting out their pencil,” to consider retail/commercial development deals.“The Heidts are excellent developers and we worked very closely with them but we’re going to make sure that the investment in our community is a lasting one, good investments to spur other investments. The key to that is the right balance,” that Bobkiewicz said would not have been achieved with fast food restaurants on the prime Railroad Corridor property.Growth is an issue that impacted the Heidts’ plans, as those who “continue opposing housing developments, Santa Paula is as about as good as it’s going to get for a while,” Wilson-Bolton noted. “None of us want to be inconvenienced by more neighbors or more cars, but how inconvenient is it to drive out of town for major purchases or entertainment? There has to be a trade-off somewhere along the line. More of status quo is pretty sad. We deserve better, but we are going to have change out mindsets that we can have things better without changing the way we view growth. You would have to look long and hard to find anyone who loves their community more than I do, but right now, I’m fairly discouraged. However, tomorrow is a new day and who knows who is out there.”

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