The answer was a solid “No.”
At that time, the upscale casual dining chain did not consider the biggest city in the Tri-Counties to be a viable location. But fast forward nearly two decades, and things have changed. The $2.3 billion market cap company will open a location at The Collection on April 16.
The Collection, which continues to add tenants every year, has become a magnet for young professionals and families that live nearby. With movie theaters, a Whole Foods, REI and Target as anchors, it has become a game changer for Oxnard, which has about 210,000 residents.
“There are a few things that are part of that magic formula for our team to spotlight, and we really thought The Collection had everything we needed,” said Althea Rowe, The Cheesecake Factory’s senior vice president for public relations and global branding in a phone interview from its Calabasas headquarters.
Meanwhile, Oxnard’s long-struggling downtown is starting to see momentum from developers of residential and mixed-use projects. To hopefully speed things along for prospective developers, it is putting the finishing touches on a regulatory retooling.
“As much as we’ve done visioning and planning for downtown, our approach right now is to move toward action,” said Community Development Director Jeff Lambert at a city council housing and economic development committee meeting on April 9.
Programs like downtown lighting, tree trimming, parking management and an arts hub received funding from the city as part of the implementation. A new downtown revitalization manager was also hired with settlement funds related to a previous clash with The Collection developers over the installation of a movie theater. That leaves the city with a little more than $5 million in downtown improvement funds.
Other public reinvestment programs like a revolving loan program and landscaping and street improvements are still on the table, Lambert said.
The biggest impacts, though, have come from the retooling of land-use policies, design guidelines and parking requirements, sources said.
A draft document on new development codes is being “ground-truthed” by private partners, Lambert said, “to make sure we don’t put zoning in place that nobody can build.” It will go up for public review at the end of the month and head to the Planning Commission in May for recommendations and then to the city council for approval in June.
“That’s a very important piece because what it does is it sets the stage for what the city wants downtown,” Lambert said. “That’s our tool to say this is what we want the private sector to do, and then our job is to help the private sector deliver on that promise.”
The parking requirements “push the envelope down,” he said, going as low as one space per thousand square feet for commercial properties and in some cases as little as half a space per unit for residential. Fees in lieu of parking would also emphasize walkability and fund maintenance for alternative transportation assets.
The flair and modern appeal of The Collection has bumped up annual foot traffic every year since it opened at the end of 2012 with six tenants, said General Manager Michael Pynn. It now boasts 79 tenants with three new businesses opening this year in addition to The Cheesecake Factory.
Hagelis, along with her husband Bill (Hagelis), spearheaded commercial brokerage at The Collection during its early days. The 700,000 square foot, open-air specialty retail center has become an Oxnard icon, sporting big brand stores such as the Target, Century RiverPark 16 theaters and H&M.
When The Cheesecake Factory considered moving into The Collection, it analyzed the location’s accessibility and parking as well as nearby retailers, said company executive Rowe.
Although the space is branded as an outdoor retailer, nearby offices were also attractive, she said. The restaurant seeks out “naturally busy locations,” where it can count on both daytime and nighttime foot traffic to support its extensive menu.
For developer Henry Casillas, parking drives development cost. When he first designed the mixed-use project he has proposed for the corner of 8th and A streets in the downtown, the reduced parking was “pretty revolutionary.”
He also said that loosened rules for building heights made Oxnard more attractive.
“The issue we’re having in Oxnard, like all Ventura County cities, at this point it’s going to have to go vertical,” Casillas said.
His project, designed with input from downtown planning groups even as the city developed its new zoning standards, is “just the tip of the spear,” he said.
“We learned a lot just from my project,” he said. “Now with the new code it’s even better, because we don’t have to jump through all those hoops,” and neither will the next developer.
The Collection’s growth is driven, in part, by new tenants coming into the project every year, Pynn said. Another draw is various community events throughout the year, said Marketing Manager Jill Almonia, adding that it’s “become a gathering place” for both local and surrounding communities.
“With downtown Oxnard, we really need to get families in here and get a population in Oxnard to sustain local restaurants and local businesses that want to spring up,” Casillas said, emphasizing that the city needs to “build for the locals.”
Oxnard high school student Daphne De La Torre was visiting The Collection on April 5. She said she goes there often with her friends, but usually only visits Oxnard’s downtown area with her family.
“There’s always new things opening, so it’s like ‘Oh, I need to go check that out!” she said, adding that the outside retail center is “bright, colorful and intriguing to the eye.”
Advancing art programs has been a focus for the downtown, said Abel Ramirez Magana, executive director of the Oxnard Downtown Management District.
The city’s cultural arts commission met in early April to identify four new artists to work with, and set aside funding for three $30,000 mural projects for the area, building on a series of utility box murals commissioned by the ODMD. Another concept being considered would turn shipping containers into pop-up retail and food service courts.
“It’s all trending positive. We’re in the thick of it,” Magana said. “I’ve not seen the political will like this … There’s definitely a lot of movement in the market right now.”
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