COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO—As recently reported, the Inland Empire region of Southern California which incorporates the Counties of San Bernardino (a Thought Leader) and Riverside, has become a leader in terms of job creation in the US. With job creation comes an environment poised for retail development.

One developer that is active here is J.R. Watson & Associates Development Corporation. The firm focuses on high-quality, community-sensitive development of mixed-use, residential, retail and office complexes and is currently under development on University Park in San Bernardino. met up with James R. Watson, president of J.R. Watson & Associates Development Corporation, to talk about this project and get a beat on the market from a developer’s perspective. Could you please give me an overview of your University Park project?

James R. Watson: University Park is a mixed-use, 135-acre project located adjacent to California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB), one of the fastest-growing universities percentage-wise for all Cal State schools. We started developing infrastructure for University Park in 2003 and sold the first phase of our project to Richmond American Homes for the development of 105 single-family homes in 2005. Development stopped during the recession, and about three years ago we began work once again on University Park, including 50 view lots that were sold to D.R. Horton in 2011 and 22 lots sold to Frontier Homes in 2013. We will be breaking ground on our final 64 detached homes next month called Autumn Villas. We have also invested over $5 million in parks and public art to benefit the project and surrounding community. We are currently under construction on The Glen at University Park, a townhome-style luxury student housing development which consists of 520 one-bedroom, one bathroom residences with attached two-car garages. The project will have a clubhouse, gym, jacuzzi, pool and three outdoor barbeque areas. Occupancy will be ready for the fall 2015 semester. We also recently began construction on the retail element of the project. Please expand on the retail portion of University Park.

Watson: The Shops at University Park is located at the main entry to CSUSB, at the corner of University Parkway and Northpark Blvd.  This is a much-anticipated piece of the development puzzle that totals approximately 18,030 square feet and over 15,000 square feet of outside patio dining area overlooking the campus and art sculptures created by the students from CSUSB. Coreland Companies has begun pre-leasing our project and our first lease was recently signed with Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches. We also have LOIs from five other tenants and anticipate executed leases by mid-June. Once that happens, the retail center will be 40 percent pre-leased, with the majority being national and regional chains.

We have had a strong amount of interest in this retail center and are creating an ideal mix that will serve both the university’s students, faculty and staff, as well as the surrounding community. We conducted several focus groups in order to obtain feedback about the retail and dining needs of the university and community. Ultimately, we will meet an untapped demand in the area as it is underserved – especially when it comes to dining options. Are you planning other projects within the County of San Bernardino in the future?

Watson: Yes, and we would like to add more projects in the coming years. About 70% of our business right now is in the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside. We see this region as one of opportunity and growth, as it offers affordable and available land, job growth, and excellent transportation options. As an active developer here, how has the County of San Bernardino been to work with?

Watson: The County of San Bernardino is a great place to do business. It is very business-friendly and works with developers like us to obtain permits and approvals. The county sees quality, planned development as the way to ultimately fulfill its vision of providing residents and businesses with a quality of life that can be sustained for the long-term.

Although the Inland Empire was hit harder than other areas during the recession, in our opinion, it is now growing faster than other adjacent areas such as Orange and Los Angeles County. The amount of new industrial development is more than any other area in Southern California.

Visit the County of San Bernardino booth at RECon at S381S.