RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA-On Wednesday, just a day before Cleveland’s Forest City Enterprises and the Upland, CA-based Lewis Co. cut the ribbon on their 1.3-million-sf Victoria Gardens shopping district and city center, Los Angeles-based developer O&S Holdings will start opening Foothill Crossing, a 315,000-sf power center on a site across the street.

A 180,000-sf Sears Grand store, the third in the company’s new open-air format to open in the country, will anchor the center. Sears will join other national retailers like CompUSA and Ortho Mattress at Foothill Crossing, which O&S is developing on a 50-acre site immediately south of Victoria Gardens. Both O&S and Rancho Cucamonga city officials attribute the quick leasing at the center to the presence of Victoria Gardens, which they describe as a catalyst for other retail development near the 147-acre Victoria Gardens site.

“Victoria Gardens has really helped a lot,” says Austin Bettar Jr., leasing director for O&S. “If Victoria Gardens were not going to happen, then the tenants that we have landed would probably not have as much interest in this location.” Both Foothill Crossing and Victoria Gardens occupy land that lay vacant and undeveloped for many years, notes Linda Daniels, redevelopment director for the city of Rancho Cucamonga. She tells GSR that the new retail developments there have been made possible by streets and other infrastructure improvements being provided by the city. After the infrastructure got under way, she tells GSR, “Property values shot up and developers were able to come in, but they couldn’t afford to come in before that because they couldn’t do the infrastructure themselves.”

O&S owns 50 acres at the Foothill Crossing site, but Bettar points out that only 33 acres is being developed because the remaining 17 acres falls under an easement to Southern California Edison Co. The main entrance to Foothill Crossing faces Victoria Gardens near Interstate 15 at Foothill Boulevard.

The Sears Grand store, which the retailer describes as “everything from milk to refrigerators,” is scheduled to open next week and will be followed by the opening of Comp USA on Nov. 11. Other retailers that O&S has lined up, which are slated for openings throughout the rest of the year and into the first quarter of next year, include Ortho Mattress, Casa Bella Salon, Vitamin Shoppe, Quizno’s Subs, Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Robin.

Bringing a Sears Grand to the development is a plum for the Inland Empire, which was once known nationally—if at all—as a sleepy region of Southern California that hardly even qualified as a suburb because it was so little developed. But the shortage of land in other Southern California counties has pushed development into the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties), producing a population boom that has in turn attracted shopping center developers and retail chains from throughout the country.

“We have been looking for a project to do in the Inland Empire, which is probably one of the fastest growing areas not just of California but of the country,” Bettar tells GSR. Bettar says O&S sees long-term growth in the two-county region and is encouraged about the retail prospects because income levels are rising in the Inland Empire.

Population in the primary trade area now exceeds 790,000, with an average household income of $58,000. Such numbers have caught the attention of national chains like Sears, which lists the Rancho Cucamonga location as one of only four Sears Grand stores expected to open by the end of 2004, with 12 to 14 Sears Grand locations expected nationally by the end of 2005. The Sears Grand store will join a lengthening list of national retailers that are expanding into the Inland Empire as the region’s population grows.

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