La Verne on the Move: Building Pace Best in 5 Years

September 9, 2011
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La Verne will never run short of office supplies with Staples and Office Depot dueling it out in opposite shopping centers on White Avenue.

La Verne will never run short of office supplies with Staples and Office Depot dueling it out in opposite shopping centers on White Avenue.

For a small community, La Verne is experiencing some outsize building activity.

“In terms of our building permit activity, this last fiscal year and into this fiscal year is as good as it’s been in the last five years,” said Hal Fredericksen, La Verne’s Community Development Director.

Leading the building boomlet is construction of the University of La Verne’s four-story, 375-bed residence hall, which, when completed in 2012, will provide an economic boost for downtown businesses. (Completion of a 380-space parking lot is due later this month.)

One of the newest businesses set to open in October or November will be the House of Wings restaurant at 2317 D. St., located in the former Ellsworth Stationery store. The new restaurant models the increasingly popular “family sports bar concept,” made successful by Buffalo Wild Wings.

“On a night like this, with a couple of college football games and the opening of the NFL season, you wouldn’t get a seat,” Fredericksen said late Thursday afternoon at City Hall.

Downtown diners also will have other exciting eating and drinking options. Going into the former Phoenix Garden location at 2232 D. Street, suite 101 is Dillons BBQ restaurant. “It’s supposed to be good,” Fredericksen said.

Around the corner at 2136 3rd St., Chase’s restaurant has opened for business. Owner Linda Wilkinson, who named her establishment after her son, spared no expense in creating a cozy outdoor patio environment highlighted by a “firefall.” The restaurant offers an extensive list of wines and craft beers and an after-hours place for locals to relax when most of La Verne’s other streets roll up after dark.

If you ever get tired of entertaining in your own backyard, try Chase's downtown.

If you ever get tired of entertaining in your own backyard, try Chase's downtown.

Next door to Chase’s is the Third Street Wine shop slated to open later this year.

The much-anticipated Granny’s Frozen Yogurt at the southeast corner of D and Third in the former La Verne Florist location had expected to be helping customers and college students cool off by now but can’t open until it upgrades its electrical panel. To expedite the opening, the city has been making calls to Southern California Edison Company on behalf of Granny’s, but so far to little avail.

“It’s like dealing with the railroads or the IRS,” Fredericksen admitted. “They march to their own drum.”

Moving uptown to the south side of Foothill Blvd., just east of Towne Center Dr., the Magnolia Court Senior Condominiums, the 101-unit complex for those 55 and older, are now selling and leasing units.

“They would love to sell them all, but I don’t think the demand is there yet,” Fredericksen said, referring to the headwinds the economy still faces.

Despite tough economic times, Hutton Development is pressing forward with development of the La Verne Village at the former site of the Person Ford dealership. On the drawing board are 172 luxury apartments and 15,000 square feet of space for retail/commercial. The massive lot, which has been scraped clean of its old structures, is in the financing stage.

“They’re waiting for the bank to say go,” Fredericksen said.

Downtown La Verne is getting merrier by the minute.

The Wine Shop is one more reason downtown La Verne figures to get merrier by the minute.

Also looking for the green light is the Patio restaurant in the former Grapevine location at 1204 Foothill Blvd. Like the Grapevine, the Patio will feature Mediterranean cuisine. All summer long, work crews have been retrofitting and remodeling the site. The owners are reportedly negotiating its hours of operation with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Meanwhile, in the La Verne Towne (Target) Center, construction of Marshalls department store and Staples office supplies continues. While no date has been scheduled, retailers typically aim to be open by Thanksgiving to take advantage of the holiday shopping season, Fredericksen noted.

Helping attract developers to La Verne is the city’s reputation for maintaining a high-quality-of-living standards while moving projects along at a good pace.

“We’re small enough that we can often put a meeting together the same day with the city manager, with the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief and myself,” Fredericksen said.

At the same time, Fredericksen will be among the first to note that La Verne is not without challenges.

“We don’t have as many sexy freeway locations as we like,” he said. “We are in heavy competition with the Glendora Marketplace and The Colonies (in Upland). They have high-profile locations.”

La Verne also has virtually no marketing presence along the freeway to entice motorists to pull off to dine or shop. “We are the only city in the surrounding area that I’m aware of that doesn’t have a pylon (large pole or marquee) on the freeway,” Fredericksen said.

This is largely the result of the 210 freeway cutting through La Verne’s mostly residential communities, along with Caltrans and other legal restrictions. Offsetting merchants’ desire for more promotional displays are many La Verne residents who don’t want to over-commercialize the town with “ostentatious and overwhelming” signage, Fredericksen said.

Another debate simmers over how to make best use of the old Vons shopping center on the northeast corner of Foothill and Wheeler.

“It’s our remaining biggest challenge,” Fredericksen said. “First and foremost, it’s because Vons has this non-competition clause. They’ll lease it to you or they’ll sell it to you, but you can’t sell groceries and you can’t sell alcohol, because that’s the business they’re in.”

Fredericksen acknowledged that the city has been approached by a gym and several dollar-type discount stores, which require no special approvals to locate there. He further recognized that these types of establishments might not be the first choices of residents or the city itself. At the same time, he wondered if these still weren’t better alternatives than continued vacancy at the strategic retail corner.

“How would you feel, if heaven forbid, the vacancy that we’re looking at is still vacant, say, three years from now?” Fredericksen asked. “At what point do you say we need to fill the space.”

Should the big box store remain indefinitely vacant, Fredericksen said that the city and the site owners run the risk of creating a “ghost-town,” negatively impacting existing and future tenants in the center. “Then nobody wants to be there, including the dollar retailers,” Fredericksen said.

That shouldn’t be the case, however, at the former Garden Square/Baker’s Square on the corner of the location, which continues to draw interest from both local and national chain restaurants. The developer, now in escrow, anticipates dividing the building into two restaurants, which will include architectural changes, such as a casual patio area. Fredericksen chose not to mention the top prospects, other than saying, “they’re names you know.”

“We’re always careful with names because people say they’re definitely going there, and then nothing happens.”

At the same time, Fredericksen noted a peculiar retail phenomenon. “Retailers want to be where there already is business,” he said. It’s the reason why Staples locates across the street from an Office Depot, he added.

Granny's Yogurts hopes to help customers and college students beat the heat.

Granny's Yogurt hopes to soon help customers and college students beat the heat.

Often overshadowed by the high-profile developments downtown and uptown is La Verne’s thriving business park below Arrow Highway. Trammel Crow, one of the nation’s leading developers, has proposed development of a 350,000 sq.-ft. business park and technology center on the former 23-acre Metropolitan Water District property. Development would be adjacent to the popular La Verne-San Polo Business Park, which is “one of the nicest business parks in the valley with virtually no vacancies,” Fredericksen said.

“The industrial brokerage community is very excited about doing this project,” he added. “It’s a goldmine for them. It brings mostly technical, white collar employment, so that’s a good thing.

“Probably more jobs – and higher-paying jobs – come in through projects like these than anything we can build on Foothill,” Fredericksen said. Besides being a jobs-generator, the business park will create greater tax revenues for the city.

The University also has strong incentives to ramp up construction of the University Sports Complex, given that many of the college’s athletic teams have been displaced by construction of the new residence hall. Projected completion for the sportsplex located south of Arrow is expected in 2013.

If you haven’t ventured downtown lately, pencil in Nov. 5, the day of the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) Fanfest. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fanfest will provide a fan experience filled with drivers, displays, vendors, music, good food and family fun, all leading up the NHRA’s World Finals at Fairplex Pomona Raceway, Nov. 10-13.

The event will also mark the return of “The Answer” singing group, a longtime La Verne favorite.

Big goings-on in a small town.

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