Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Downtown Renaissance Continues

Downtown Renaissance Continues
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Back in 2000, business leaders and city officials convened in workshops and brain storming sessions to determine what could be done to revitalize downtown Fairfield.

Five years later the area is an emerging testament to those efforts.

The area continues to see appreciation in rent rates, while vacancy rates decrease. Business turn-over is high in the area, but the open spaces are being quickly filled by a variety of businesses that contribute to a more dynamic business base, said Emily Low, program coordinator for the Fairfield Downtown Association.

A few years ago monthly rent rates were about 65 to 70 cents per foot, Low said. Now rates are 95 cents to $1.10 per foot for new tenants.

Part of the increase can be attributed to the increased foot traffic from the new government buildings. Another factor, according to Low, is that more business owners are looking for cheaper rent rates than commercial spaces located along Interstate 80. Demand increases price.

Low was part of the discussions five years ago and remembers how everyone from county workers and neighborhood residents to the business owners and property owners contributed their visions and desires for the future downtown area.

"One of the things we did was to look at what kinds of businesses we had here, and what kinds of businesses would enhance those," she said.

Three things they wanted then: a fabric shop, an early morning breakfast restaurant and a hobby store. What they got: Cornerstone Quilt Shop, Downhome Diner and Black Knight Trains and Hobbies.

Low said they still want a juice shop, such as Jamba Juice, a gym and a neighborhood hardware store.

Spurred by reinvestment incentives from the city and higher rents, property owners are reinvesting in their buildings and attracting a wider assortment of businesses, including more tenants providing upper-end products and services.

John Costanzo, a property developer who owns the Stonefield Corner and McInnis Corner buildings which are located on the South corners of Texas and Jefferson, is one of the business leaders on the forefront of reinvestment in downtown.

Costanzo re-developed McInnis Corner giving it an attractive and modern look, and Starbucks quickly moved in to take possession of the coveted corner space. Now a local accounting firm is eying the second floor space, according to Low.

Across the street at Stonefield Corner, Costanzo is offering commercial condominium spaces in part of the building.

The idea is that a business will own the space in which it operates, allowing the owner to control an appreciating asset rather than simply paying rent.

Already about 75 percent of the condos are under some level of discussions or negotiations, said Costanzo. The interested parties range from doctors and attorneys to insurance agents, he said.

"They're excited about being invested in a commercial project rather than just paying rent," he said. "It's a pretty new idea, but its time has come."

While Costanzo said he does not make as much money in the long run with condos, those who own their condos will be more committed to the downtown area, and this increases the value of all downtown, including his other properties such as McInnis Corner.

"The county building was a catalyst for growth. This will be another catalyst," he said.

Costanzo also noted that an increased police presence has created a safer climate.

"The police have made a significant commitment to try and redevelop downtown by showing a presence," he said. "It's just nice having them around."

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

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