Thursday, October 06, 2005

Own your own business

August 17, 2005

Own Your Own Business
Capitalist undertakes building commercial condos in Fairfield

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Robert Eves, the president of the Venture Corporation in Mill Valley, checks out the foundation, which still needs concrete to be poured, at his Venture Commerce Center in the Green Valley area. Photo: David Pacheco/Times-Herald

It's a new twist on an old idea and it's coming to Solano County.

The Marin County-based Venture Corporation recently broke ground on the Venture Commerce Center in Fairfield, the county's first commercial condominium building.

Robert Eves of Mill Valley, 57, the firm's president, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, California's real estate market and the dot-com bust were among the factors that led him to conceive of constructing condos for small business owners to own.

Between 1993 and 2003, Eves' firm built the largest business park in Silicon Valley, in Morgan Hill, but took a hit in 2000 when the dot-com bust caused the tech business to decline. Things got even worse after Sept. 11, he said.

"In 2002, I started getting calls from businesses asking us to build small buildings they could own," Eves said. "The lower interest rates were making ownership possible. Small business owners pay rent, sometimes for decades, and have only a rich landlord to show for it."

Eves said he realized most small business owners weren't able to take advantage of the explosion in California's real estate market, since they typically don't need and can't afford to buy a huge commercial building, and small commercial buildings are difficult to find. He said building small, house-sized commercial buildings doesn't make economic sense for developers.

"We thought we should find a way to build for small companies," Eves said. "Developers want to build for large companies. That's why in a town you can hardly ever find any small buildings for sale. There's the occasional converted gas station or house, but that's about it. So our idea was to provide an opportunity for small companies to become owners."

Venture Corporation builds big buildings, called Venture Commerce Centers, which are divided into several properties with separate entrances and amenities. They're like residential condos, only for businesses, Eves said.

"Our buildings are steel-reinforced concrete with lots of special architectural detail - way too expensive as a small, individual building, so we came up with a design like a two-story townhouse," Eves said. He said the typical commercial condo contains five or six individual properties within a single structure. The firm can arrange financing, and lease-to-own options are available.

"We have 640 projects under way today, and since we dreamed this up in 2002, we've built in California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and who knows, what's next," Eves said.

He said some of the buildings sell out before they're even finished. The Napa center, finished about eight months ago, still has several properties available while the Fairfield building, which just broke ground, is already 50 percent sold, he said.

"We're amazed at how fast the properties sell," he said, adding that the types of businesses that have bought into the idea vary widely.

"There are lawyers, engineers, insurance brokers, laboratory, medical offices, architects, import/expert business, manufacturers, caterers, interior designers - all kinds of businesses," he said. The back of the individual properties can be outfitted with a roll-up door for loading, making it possible to run a shipping, storage or other similar business.

"They come with private restrooms, carpeted; no one shares anything with anybody," Eves said, "and then every month, instead of making a rent payment, you make a mortgage payment."

Juan Hernandez of Fairfield is one Solano County man who sees the concept's advantages.

"I want to start my own business, and I'll be paying rent anyway, and even if I have to pay more, it's worth it in the long run to own the property," the 29-year-old said.

Hernandez, who expects soon to have his real estate agent's license, plans to go into business with his sister-in-law who's expecting to get her broker's license soon. They hope to open their business in their own building.

"We plan to stay in business in the area a long time, and you gain equity if you own the property and you're not throwing your money away on rent," Hernandez said.

Suisun City-based dentist Lourdes Gaerlan, 45, of Fairfield, also said she's excited about the possibility of buying into the center. She said she thinks her center mortgage payments will be less than the rent on her current office.

"It's an investment," Gaerlan said. "I've been in business 10 years, and this will be my first investment. I'm in a shopping center now, paying $5,000 per month rent and getting no equity. And this area is booming."

Eves said a similar idea - converting a large warehouse into smaller, privately owned ones, flopped in San Francisco about 25 years ago, apparently ahead of its time.

Now, though, with some tweaking of the concept, the business-owning public seems to be ready for the idea.

"This was a response to a few calls we got from people who wanted to be owners, and we thought maybe there'd be more. We didn't understand how many wanted to be owners. It's growing like crazy and other firms are copying us," he said. "This marketplace didn't exist three or four years ago. A whole new segment of the real estate industry is born.

"I look for nice areas that look cared for when you drive there. You should see well-maintained places on your way there, and when you look out your window, you should see nicely maintained places. It's a matter of pride," Eves said.

Besides the business owners who buy the commercial condos, communities benefit from the sense of proprietary interest ownership engenders, Eves said.

"It brings small business owners' families to town to live, send their kids to school, shop and invest in the community," Eves said. Eves said there are Venture Commerce Center projects in Alameda, Antioch, Fremont, Hercules, Morgan Hill, Napa, Newark, San Jose and South San Jose, and he's scouting places in Sacramento, Vacaville and on Mare Island.

Originally from Omaha, Neb., Eves, a married father of five, said he moved to California in 1975, and founded Venture corporation the following year.

"I'm a classic entrepreneur - much more a small businessman than a large one," he said. "We're a small company, 19 employees, so I appreciate the merits of owning rather than renting and I understand the problems and aspirations of small business owners. This is based on my own experience. I can't imagine renting anymore. It's been an exciting ride."

If you go...

What: Venture Commerce Center, Fairfield

Where: Green Valley Corporate Park on Mangeles Boulevard, intersection of Interstate 80 and the I-680 interchange

For information: Call (415) 381-1680 or log on to

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