ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Chipotle Mexican Grill Coming to Town

December 30, 2010
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New University of La Verne dorms -- view from D and Second St.

New University of La Verne dorms -- view from D and Second St.

Out with the old, in with the new.

We’re not talking about dismissing 2010 and welcoming 2011. We’re talking about the state of community and economic development in La Verne as we turn the page on another year.

Say goodbye to the Grapevine on Foothill and the Vons on Foothill and White and say hello to Chipotle Mexican Grill and Granny’s Frozen Yogurt (Fro-Yo for short).

“We are seeing signs of improving economic development in La Verne, which should be good news for all of us,” said Hal Fredericksen,” La Verne’s Community Development Director, whose office is experiencing an uptick in calls from developers, contractors and national chains interested in locating and doing business here.

The evidence isn’t just anecdotal or empirical. The numbers back up the perception. Sales tax revenues were up about 7% in 2010 compared to 2009, a down year that also saw sales slide about 9 to 10 percent.

“We’re moving back up to where we were two or three years ago,” noted Fredericksen, back at City Hall after filling the boots of Santa Claus on Christmas morning dispensing candy and other goodies in an iconic La Verne tradition.

There are some notable vacancies around town – the Vons at Foothill and Wheeler, the former Person Ford dealership on Foothill and the former La Verne Florist shop downtown – but businesses are hardly folding up shop and fleeing town en masse. Vacancy rates are about 5% in old town and about 6.5% on Foothill.

“Anything between 0 and 5% — even in a healthy economy — is considered healthy,” Fredericksen explained.

The “biggest sore thumb” for the city is the vacant Vons at Foothill and Wheeler, but there is ongoing discussion about reviving the space.

More students want to own a piece of the ULV rock.

More students want to own a piece of the ULV rock.

“The city continues to work with a new property owner who is in escrow for this space, which is controlled by Vons and has no grocery or liquor clause,” said Fredericksen, “The owner has asked the city to consider a nursing school; however, no application has been filed.” (Perhaps, part of the reason no application has been filed is that Kaplan, a for-profit career education company owned by the Washington Post, is under sharp scrutiny by Congress as are other for-profit schools.)

The same owner of the old Vons center also owns the recently vacated Garden Square restaurant space on the corner.

“He has made a preliminary proposal to develop the site for a new national chain sit-down chain restaurant,” Fredericksen said. A bank has also been discussed for the site.

Eastward on Foothill, development prospects appear rosier. For one, Chipotle Mexican Grill has received approval to go on the southwest corner of White and Foothill, in the space formerly occupied by Star’s Beauty Supply next to Blockbuster Video.

“They’ll do an architectural change to that building, and it will include some outdoor dining,” Fredericksen said.

It will also offer a nice counterpoint to Panera Bread on the northeast corner of Fruit and Wheeler, which has become the city’s busiest intersection because of its proximity to the 210 freeway.

“You might say that Chipotle and Panera are the two most active retailers in the United States.

With regard to Panera, sales are about 150% higher than what a typical Panera prototype does, according to Fredericksen. Already, the casual dining restaurant is conferring with the city about expanding its kitchen and storage areas. “They wished they had built a bigger store,” Fredericksen said.

The former Person Ford is looking for some key economic drivers to jump start development.

The former Person Ford is looking for some key economic drivers to jump start development.

As for the recently shuttered Vons on the southeast corner, Fredericksen said the closing represents a “tremendous opportunity” for the city. No longer will it be a “holding zone” for Vons to protect its marketing turf.

“This space is not controlled by Vons but by the shopping center owner KIMCO,” Fredericksen said. “Kimco has indicated intent to split the space into two retail spaces, including a new architectural remodel.

“They have four solid national retailers who are interested in the space, and they’ll take two of the four and put them there.”

Meanwhile, the sales office for the Magnolia Court Senior Condominiums, the 101-unit senior citizen (age 55 and over) complex on the south side of Foothill Blvd, just east of Towne Center Dr, is now open as the project nears completion.

The Magnolia Court senior condos are almost finished. The sales office is now open.

The Magnolia Court senior condos are almost finished. The sales office is now open.

“That’s probably the project that makes people scratch their head more than anything,” Fredericksen said, noting the protracted three-year construction phase.

The project broke ground just as the long run-up in real estate prices was coming to end and seniors, the project’s target market, suddenly found themselves with reduced home equity. Consequently, the developer extended the construction phase, hoping the market would turn positive again.

“One thing about the project,” Fredericksen said, “is it never had any money problems. Most people assumed that when they were going so slow. It was just a conscious decision not to hurry up this project with the resale market being as bad as it was.”

Less than a year from now, the Hutton Development Co. might break ground for a mixed-use development on the vacant Person Ford site at the northeast corner of Foothill and Bradford St. The project, as proposed, includes 16,500 square feet of retail commercial along with 175 resort-quality apartment units.

Panera Bread is performing better than expected.

Panera Bread is performing better than expected.

“The developer constructed a similar project in the city of Upland that has been very well received,” Fredericksen said.

Four public workshops have been conducted for the project, and a fiscal analysis has been undertaken. Design review is proceeding and includes a complete environmental and traffic review. The next scheduled hearings are in May and June, with construction possible by fall 2011, Fredericksen added.

The most concrete proposals and projects may actually be taking place downtown, spearheaded by the University of La Verne, which Fredericksen noted “is growing by leaps and bounds,” in part because of the tuition increases and capped enrollments at California’s University of California and state college system.

Fueled by a $71 million bond sale, ULV is forging ahead with a four-story 369-room residence hall at the southwest corner of D and Second St. The first floor will incorporate the fabric of the downtown retail community, which will include moving the current ULV bookstore at D and Bonita to the new location. Construction is set to begin in March and be completed by summer 2012.

When the new dormitory opens, students should find a new Granny’s Yogurt shop ready to serve them at the southeast corner of D and Third St., in what was the La Verne Florist shop. The space may have found a use earlier but the new owner had to retrofit the building to meet seismic guidelines.

The University’s development of a sports complex at the southwest corner of Wheeler Ave., just south of Arrow Hwy. is also once again on the front burner. The sports complex, which will include a new baseball stadium, softball field, multi-purpose soccer field and associated buildings and parking, is now on an accelerated timetable with construction beginning in 2011 and completion as soon as the fall semester of 2012.

“If I had to guess, I would bet very strongly that they make that sports complex opening by 2012,” Fredericksen proposed.

From left, Paul Pieroth and Steven Paul stand in front of their latest La Verne project, the Kiddie Academy due to be completed this winter.

From left, Paul Pieroth and Steven Paul stand in front of their latest La Verne project, the Kiddie Academy due to be completed this winter.

Farther out on the development horizon is the much anticipated Gold Line light rail Phase 2B extension from Azusa to Montclair. Phase 2A from Pasadena to Azusa is expected to begin construction in 2011. Meanwhile, the projected Azusa to Montclair link is now undergoing environmental review and public scoping sessions in which impacted municipalities like La Verne and concerned citizens can express their views about proposed stations, street closings, traffic, noise, and other concerns in an open-house format. The first such meeting occurs Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Ganesha Community Center at 1575 in Pomona.

As a result, the city of La Verne has been shaping a specific plan that envisions downtown development over the next 25 years. The rosiest scenario puts the Gold Line in La Verne in seven years. “A strong coalition of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supports the project,” Fredericksen said. The project could accelerate if the government authorizes a major transportation bill; it could lag if other competing projects, like the subway to the sea (from Los Angeles to Santa Monica), gain ascendance.

Other projects (wishes) lie even farther out, for instance, finding a tenant to occupy the restaurant pad in front of the Regal cinema. “It’s hard to believe we still have a prime restaurant pad in front of that theater,” Frederickson admitted.

Fredericksen also recognizes that a city can only do so much.

Stephen and Susan opened Cartridge World in the Target Shopping Center in 2010, bringing new sales tax revenues to the City.

Stephen and Susan opened Cartridge World in the Target Shopping Center in 2010, bringing new sales tax revenues to the City.

“We don’t rule with an iron stick,” he said. “We encourage development but a property owner or a business has to want to grow, has to want to improve for it to happen. If we had a magic wand, we’d fix what’s going on with the vacant Vons location yesterday.”

Developers may increasingly pick up that wand on their own, however, attracted by the city’s median income of about $80,000 and the city’s reputation for stability and responsible fiscal management backed by a healthy reserve fund and strong volunteerism, including two unpaid interns in the lean community development department.

Fredericksen’s boosterism knows no boundaries, but businesses looking for new opportunities in 2011 would be smart to listen.

“We’re arguably the safest community in Southern California,” said Fredericksen, who also has been a resident of La Verne since 1976. “We’re full service with our own police and fire service, so there is a very low level of crime and a high level of protection. It’s a beautiful community. We have a campus orientation in old town. There are trees everywhere. This is not everywhere Los Angeles. This is a community that has character, that has stability, that has pride.”

Cartridge World in La Verne is located at 2400 Foothill Blvd., Suite D, in the Target Shopping Center. For more information, please call (909) 596-0700.

Support Cartridge World because it supports La Verne with its tax dollars.

In the same center where you’ll find Panera Bread, check out The Corner Butch Shop for the best cuts of beefs and sandwiches in town!

2 Responses to “ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Chipotle Mexican Grill Coming to Town”

  1. In response to the development of La Verne’s unused commerical/retail properties, it is a very sad state of affairs when all the city apparently is doing is bringing in MORE 5 & dime shops, more nail salons and restaurants that are mostly take-out. Oh and not to mention ANOTHER yogurt shop. . . really? How about fostering the once ‘old-time neighborhood’ environment with a nice family restaurant where families can sit down to a decent meal with out a ‘to-go’ container! Unfortunately we will continue to shop and dine elsewhere (Glendora & Claremont). La Verne you missed the boat AGAIN – where our neighboring cities seem to be attracting the businesses that draw business/tax dollars and smiling customers!

  2. Really like to hear about new businesses in the city, keep up the good work.

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