Monday, April 18, 2005

Freeway frontage sites fast disappearing in Solano

Article Last Updated: 4/16/2005 08:03 AM

Freeway frontage filled
Coveted sites fast disappearing in Solano

By Barbara Smith/Business WriterTheReporter.Com

'Freeway frontage preferred" may be the retailer's mantra, but those strategic locales are fast disappearing along the Interstate 80 corridor in Solano County.

One of the latest under development is a site along I-80 at Travis Boulevard in Fairfield.
Peet's Coffee (& Tea) and Petco will anchor a 24,900 square-foot shopping center at 1370-1380 Holiday Lane in Fairfield, as well as polish off one of the last spots visible to up to 200,000 cars driving by every day, said Karl Dumas, project manager for the city of Fairfield.

Fairfield has built out the Green Valley Shopping Center, which is anchored by Safeway in Cordelia. Also built out is the Gateway Courtyard Shopping Center, anchored by Barnes & Noble. With the exception of a large development area where the old Cordelia truck stop once stood, there is little freeway retail frontage property left, Dumas said.

Whether it's Fairfield or Vacaville or anywhere else, what the retailers like Petco are going to gravitate toward are areas with freeway visibility, he said.

"It builds what they call 'brand identity,"' Dumas said. "If you drive by an area and you see that sign all the time, even if you don't need something today, when you do need something for your pet, you are automatically going to remember: 'I know where a pet store is.' "
"The retailer thinks: 'If I've got my name plastered here against the freeway, it's great exposure, especially if I have a freeway sign,' " Dumas said. "And when all of those sites are taken, you're going to find retailers going into inter city areas."

That's how Basil Christopoulos, president of Walnut Creek-based C & H Development Co. was able to snap up the roughly 2 and one-half acres for Peet's Coffee and Petco that was once the site of a motorcycle dealership.

"It was simply a matter of when the Harley-Davidson guys decided to move their dealership in downtown Fairfield. That's what allowed it go to come available," he said. Christopoulos broke ground late last year on the shopping center and it will be finished in about six weeks, he said. Shoppers will find Peet's Coffee, Petco, Mattress Discounters, Nature's Essence Florist and Golden One Credit Union at the site.

"We're fully leased," Christopoulos said. "It's a great corner, and we have great visibility from the freeway. And, the existing freeway sign remains - we get to keep that."

Christopoulos said the importance of freeway frontage cannot be stressed enough.
"A prefect example is we we're fully leased pretty much right off the bat, while they are having a very tough time filling the old Yardbirds site which is just two blocks down the road," he said.
He declined to disclose the sales price of the land, as well as the lease amounts other than "top of the market" for both.

Dumas said the shopping center's proximity to Westfield Shoppingtown Solano mall is another reason why that piece of property has been eyed by developers for a few years.
"You've got a regional mall there, so you've got people coming from outside of the area," Dumas said. "So you're within a very close range of a high traffic count, not only from the freeway, but also from people going to the mall."

Vacaville's Economic Development Manager Mike Palombo said his city has precious little freeway frontage left and what is left is going fast.

"It's tighter than I feel comfortable with," Palombo said. "There's very little left that can become commercial."

The biggest chunk of land that could provide considerable freeway frontage is a 165-plus acre stretch along I-80 from Kaiser Permanente to I-505. It was purchased by developer A.G. Spanos Companies in June of last year and offers 4,488 feet of frontage area.

It's less than a mile, but a long run, Palombo said. The drawback is access would have to be from Vaca Valley Parkway. With the exception of 727 feet Palombo expects to see used for office use, the balance will likely be used for retail, and quickly.

"That's really quite a good piece, but again, it's not in order to get into it," he said. "That's one of the less attractive features of that property."

There are other small parcels along I-80, including a 7-acre piece on the south side of Kaiser and the east side of a motel that literally fronts the freeway. Another piece is the Nut Tree property, which is committed for development. There's a piece next to Petco in Vacaville, but that's under development now. Not committed for development is a roughly 3-acre site off Depot Street behind a gas station and a small piece off Davis Street.

Heading west on I-80, there is vacant land but it was purchased for public open space. Turn around and travel east on I-80, and there are some smaller pieces on the eastern side of Leisure Town Road.

And freeway frontage doesn't come cheap, Palombo noted.

"The demand for freeway frontage is virtually insatiable, because a lot of businesses really would like to have that exposure," he said. "It's the most sought after property and therefore often times it becomes the most expensive."

Palombo said the next source of freeway frontage could possibly be between Leisure Town Road east to Midway Road, but that isn't by any means a certainty, he said.
The property hasn't been reviewed or approved by the Vacaville City Council, but the city is going to begin an infrastructure (sewer and water) studies this year.

"That's the first step in perhaps making more property along the freeway more available to those kind of uses that need that exposure," he said. "My guess is if everything went well, that's probably a five-year process."

Questions city officials will consider include: Would Vacaville be developing the land? How will the infrastructure be paid for? What kind of uses should be out there?
"Each one of those questions needs to be examined," Palombo said. "It's a very preliminary step that may lead to making these areas developable for freeway sensitive uses ... but it might prove to be so expensive that it can't be done.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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