Sunday, December 26, 2004

A busy year of business

From expansion projects to a red-hot real estate market, Solano sizzled in 2004
By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

A red-hot real estate market drove home prices to historical highs in 2004. Skyrocketing gasoline prices left consumers feeling burned. And cement - a staple of the building industry - became known as "gray gold."

Yet throughout the year, homebuyers kept buying, motorists kept filling their tanks and builders kept building. Whether it was simply faith in a cheerleading governor or a stabilizing economy, business bustled in Solano County, with plans mapped out for a golden future in 2005.

Here are the top 10 local business stories for 2004 as voted on by editors of The Reporter:

1. Genentech Expansion
In April, coincidentally on its 10th anniversary, biotech giant Genentech announced plans to nearly double its manufacturing plant and local work force on a 97-acre site at Interstate 505 and Vaca Valley Parkway. The $577 million project, dubbed Cell Culture Production 2, is presently under construction. Described by Genentech officials as a "showcase ... one of the most highly automated facilities in the world," it will upon completion include three buildings and add 380,000 square feet to the existing facility. It will add roughly 575 employees to its 600 member-work force.

The star of the groundbreaking show was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, "We're tearing down the walls and the obstacles of doing business here, and getting California back on track."

"Horizons 2010" is the time frame the biotech giant hopes to reach in its ambitious goal to become the world's leader in biotherapeutics by the development and production of five new oncology products to be placed on the market in 2010 - and by getting five new immunology products into approved development and clinical trials the same year.

2. Kaiser Permanente Expansion
Currently Genentech's next-door neighbor, Kaiser Permanente announced plans earlier this month to construct a $300 million, 166-bed state-of-the-art hospital adjacent to its existing medical office on Vaca Valley Parkway.

The 340,000-square-foot facility will boast an emergency room; eight labor and delivery rooms; and radiology, surgical and intensive care services. Pending state and local regulatory approval, the not-for-profit health-care provider estimates groundbreaking for the four-story building in 2005 with a 2009 opening.

Adding to the 168,000-square-foot medical office building already in operation, the new office building will include room for 60 primary care and speciality physicians and an outpatient surgery center of 217,000 square feet. Also part of the project is a 34,000-square-foot central utility plant. When all the new facilities are completed, the entire complex will encompass 750,000 square feet. The hospital will also fill at least 1,500 new jobs.

Kaiser Permanente serves more than 8.4 million members nationwide including 3.2 million in Northern California. In the Napa-Solano area, there are more than 240,000 members.

3. Vacaville Downtown Revamp
After years of planning, the heart of Vacaville's historic downtown is emerging as envisioned with a 15,000-square-foot library, Town Square Plaza and new buildings and businesses on Main Street.

A mix of speciality shops, offices and restaurants will fill two multilevel Italian villa-style buildings flanking the plaza created by the Guido Addiego family. The Pure Grain Bakery is expected to open any day, and new businesses already open include Hot Porridge, a specialty toy store, and the Town Square Candy Co.

Restaurants planned to open include Saltato's Italian restaurant, a 2,000-square-foot full dinner house with a Tuscan Roman theme seating up to 55 and eventually an additional 25 outdoors.

Saltato's will compete with existing establishments like Merchant & Main Grill & Bar, China House, The Old Post Office and Fire Falls restaurant and lounge, which has been considered a cornerstone of the downtown renaissance. Just around the corner on East Main Street will be a new, two-level building that will house

the John Vasquez family deli. Vasquez Deli will move from its McClellan Street locale into the building, which will have apartments on the top floor.

Also, Joe Murdaca, owner of Pietro's No. 1, is working with the city on his Don Carmello's Bistro on the corner of Dobbins and Monte Vista Avenue.

The Town Square Plaza itself is roughly 15,000 square feet, and will include a 39-foot clock tower, trees, water features and a stage.

Meanwhile, the administrative offices of Vacaville Sanitary Service have moved into second-floor offices in the library building.

While rainy weather and other construction-related problems have delayed the opening of many new businesses and the construction of the Town Square Plaza, work is picking up.

The Town Square and plaza are the culmination of about a $5 million project, with the construction of the library costing about $3.5 million. The Vacaville Redevelopment Agency paid roughly $1.5 million for the parking lot and the Town Square Plaza.

4. Hot Real Estate Market
A sizzling real estate seller's market dropped to just a low simmer during the holidays, but the median price of a home in Solano County in November reached an all-time high of $400,000.

That's 80 percent higher than the median price reported in January, and prices are expected to continue to rise, analysts say.

With data clearly showing a trend with no signs of abating, droves of Californians earned their real estate sales licenses in 2004. The California Department of Real Estate reported in midyear there are 389,409 real estate licensees in the state, a number that has steadily climbed since 1999. Also, 1,532 agents were working the Solano County market, according to Bay Area Real Estate Information Services.

In Vacaville, two large brokerages expanded their office space. Kappel & Kappel Realtors Inc. added a sixth branch by opening a Sacramento office to spread out and beef up its 120-plus sales force, while Gateway Realty opened three new offices - one on Mason Street - to house its 105 agents.

5. A.G. Spanos Buys Site
In June, A.G. Spanos Cos., one of the nation's leading builders of apartment communities, purchased a 172-acre swath of land in the Vaca Valley Business Park for commercial development.

While development plans are now just roughly sketched out, the purchase essentially completed the business park by complementing biotechnology giant Genentech and the Kaiser Permanente Medical Offices.

Representatives of Spanos said at the time of the purchase that they hoped to do a mixed-use project, including office, perhaps some additional biotech, and probably some retail.

The 12 parcels in the acreage form a triangle bordered by Interstate 80 and I-505. Spanos bought the land from the partnership of an out-of-the-area real estate brokerage and Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm. Those firms bought the land from Chevron some 10 to 12 years ago, and it now remains the largest undeveloped piece in the business park.

City officials said the importance of the acquisition is it puts the property in hands of a true development firm, meaning there is likely to be more investment in the property, and the property would be developed faster than it would have by the prior owners.

Spanos said it would spend $8 million to $10 million in infrastructure to complete a road, streetscaping and the rest of the infrastructure to have access to all the parcels.

Alex G. Spanos has built three large apartment communities in Vacaville in the last five years, including the 316-unit North Pointe Apartments on Leisure Town Road, the River Oaks apartments on Elmira Road and The Commons off Nut Tree Road.

6. Nut Tree Redevelopment
The final remnants of the landmark Nut Tree were excavated in 2004 to make room for redevelopment by Larkspur-based Roger Snell of Snell & Co. Snell plans to transform the historic 76-acre site, once home to the famed Nut Tree Restaurant, into high-end retail, hotel-conference, residential, office and family-oriented features.

The Vacaville City Council in September approved the Nut Tree master plan for retail shops, restaurants, office space and housing on the site. Snell has touted the development as a world-class project that will bring back the Nut Tree's reputation as a California landmark.

Snell has said the project will generate about $1.8 million in annual property taxes and $1.5 million in annual sales tax revenue. He has also said the project will create 1,300 jobs.

7. North Village Construction
After some 10 years of planning, construction began on North Village, an 880-acre master planned community in northeast Vacaville.

Located between Vaca Valley Parkway and Midway Road, and bounded on the west by Interstate 505, North Village was annexed into the city more than a decade ago and, when built out, will house an estimated 7,000 and nudge Vacaville's population beyond the 100,000 mark.

North Village, under development by Concord-based Albert D. Seeno Construction Co., is slated to have 2,177 units, including apartments. Seeno was originally given permission to build about 2,500 homes, but plans changed after environmentalists discovered some 50 acres of vernal pools at the site, including the endangered fairy shrimp.

That grounded the project for four years, but in June the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted final environmental approval. Seeno had to withdraw some 300 dwellings to set aside acreage for natural habitat.

8. Auto Dealership Sold
Jack Wilson, a founding partner in Vallejo's Wilson Cornelius Ford, confirmed in January that he had sold his interest in the dealership to partner Rod Cornelius. After 44 years in the automobile sales business, Wilson said it was time to pursue other interests.

Cornelius at the time said he was eager to take on the sole ownership.

The business was started by Wilson's father 65 years ago. In September 1940, Claude Wilson established his Ford dealership on downtown Vallejo's Virginia Street. Rod Cornelius' grandfather, Ira, joined the dealership's sales team in 1948.

In 1950, the dealership moved to 1301 Georgia St., and Claude Wilson had a new business partner, Barney Russell. The dealership was known then as Wilson Russell Ford.

Jack Wilson joined his father's business in 1960. Claude's death in 1961 made Jack the new partner.

Glenn Cornelius, who joined the sales team in 1953, became the third business partner in 1965, a relationship that would last 30 years.

By the late '60s, Russell had retired and the dealership was down to two partners - Jack Wilson and Glenn Cornelius. That's when the business became known as Wilson Cornelius Ford.

Rod Cornelius started washing cars at the dealership when he was 14 and was on the sales team by 1974. He became sales manager a few years later and, following his father's retirement in 1995, took over the general management of the dealership and became a partner.

9. Kohl's Opens
The long-anticipated Kohl's department store in Vacaville opened in October, along with 11 other stores in the Bay Area, including Vallejo.

The large-scale Wisconsin-based department store at 570 Orange Drive brought 150 new jobs to Vacaville and 220 to its Vallejo location.

Kohl's debuted in the Golden State in the spring of last year. The new Bay Area stores bring the number of Kohl's in California to 62.

Kohl's is a family-focused, value-oriented specialty department store offering moderately priced national brand apparel, shoes, accessories and home products.

In Vacaville, the Kohl's store is 95,515 square feet, slightly larger than the Kohl's prototype of 88,000 square feet. The store carries well-known national brand names like Levi's, Gloria Vanderbilt, Arrow, Haggar, Dockers, Reebok, Adidas, Nike, OshKosh B'Gosh, Calphalon cookware, Carters, Nine & Co. and Liz Claiborne Villager. It also carries its own private brands, like "Sonoma" and the recently launched "Daisy Fuentes" women's line.

Kohl's public relations officials tout the stores' stand-alone locations, "easy to shop" layouts, centralized checkouts, shopping carts with built-in strollers and plenty of parking.

Based in Menomonee Falls, Kohl's plans to open a total of 190 new stores across the country in 2004 and 2005. The company currently operates 589 stores in 38 states. It earned $591 million on $10.3 billion in revenue last year.

10. NorthBay Healthcare To Grow
In June, NorthBay Healthcare announced plans to develop a third hospital in Green Valley in the next five to 10 years.

The nonprofit operates VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville and NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield.

The 20-acre Green Valley site, at the northwest corner of Business Center Drive and Mangels Boulevard, would be home to advanced speciality services not currently available in the county, including open-heart surgery.

Other examples of advanced high-tech care that could be considered for the site include orthopedic rehabilitation services and a potential trauma center.

The site also provides room for offices and outpatient facilities.

Early in 2005, construction of a new emergency service at VacaValley Hospital will begin, and plans are under way for the development of a 20-acre site in the Green Valley Corporate Park.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

The year in review
1. Genentech Expansion
2. Kaiser Permanente Expansion
3. Vacaville Downtown Revamp
4. Hot Real Estate Market
5. A.G. Spanos Buys Site
6. Nut Tree Redevelopment
7. North Village Construction
8. Auto Dealership Sold
9. Kohl's Opens
10. NorthBay Healthcare To Grow

Solano's Got It!

Solano's Got It!
The Best That Northern California Has To Offer.