Cities across the country are becoming more innovative and responsive to business owners' and developers’ needs in order to attract and keep the entrepreneurs and developments that drive their economies and provide jobs for their residents.
In Vista, Calif., City leaders are going beyond being “business friendly” and pulling out all the stops when it comes to assisting companies with the “impossible.” They know that a city’s success comes from a combination of creative and thoughtful planning for the benefit of a community’s many stakeholders. They also realize that to continue its success, they have to find innovative ways to help businesses grow. However, opening and growing a business often involves complicated Federal, State and local regulations that can be difficult to navigate.
“We do what it takes to help businesses in our city succeed and we want to encourage our business owners to come to us if they need assistance, even if what they need seems impossible,” said Kevin Ham, Director of Economic Development for the City of Vista.
Three development companies know first-hand that the City is sincere in this message; each of them have worked with the City and have found success even when their projects have faced challenges.
For the family-run real estate firm, Atomic Investments, Inc., investing in Vista has been a long game.
President Philip Teyssier said, “Our company owns a retail center in addition to various industrial/commercial properties in Vista. We have been investing here since the early 1970s, with our most recent purchase in 2017. We are hands-on landlords working directly with our tenants to help them where we can, including helping them work with Vista to accomplish what they need to open their business and to keep it running.”
Teyssier agrees Vista is a business-friendly city and he likes to promote that idea, “When working with a tenant prospect, one of the features I advertise to them is that Vista is a business-friendly city. What makes that happen is that the Economic Development department acts as a meaningful liaison between businesses and the City's other departments.”
He also knows that City Leaders work hard to make sure that business owners, investors, and residents are having their needs and issues met. “If there is an issue in which we need help, we can go to the City Team and they will quickly help us get it resolved. Sometimes it is as simple as having an administrative permit approved, and other times it can be more complicated, but having the support of the department helps give us a direct path to a solution.”
Teyssier believes that Vista leaders take a hands-on approach that helps the city thrive in ways that really make it stand out. “Vista’s economic development department does not print fancy brochures and wait for the phone to ring. Instead, it actively seeks out businesses and connects them with the resources it needs. For instance, Kevin Ham periodically reaches out to me when he knows of a business looking to relocate in Vista and needing space. In short, the department seems to know about every business in Vista and acts as a great networking resource. The department also networks with the other North County cities in creating a strong economic base in the area.”
A Retail Space Spouted In Vista
Artist rendering Vista Terrace Place in Vista
Symeon Davis is the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel for Black Lion Investment Group, Inc., a Southern California-based commercial real estate investment and development company. His company buys, sells, develops, and leases retail, office, and mixed-use properties throughout the US.
Sprouts storefront on E. Vista Way in Vista
Davis and Black Lion Investment Group believe Vista is a great place to develop and invest in because they see the exciting growth happening throughout the city in both the development of retail centers and in residential housing. Beyond these two critical components, Davis said, “Based on the success of our recent development and repositioning projects in Vista, another critical reason why Vista is attractive is the quality, fairness, and problem-solving traits of the City’s Management Team.”
Davis feels Vista stands out from other cities when it comes to supporting business development. “Those running Black Lion have nearly 200 years of combined, top-notch commercial real estate know-how, so we have experienced the full spectrum of business development and cooperation shown by hundreds of cities. Vista has proven itself to be among the very best we have ever dealt with, especially in terms of making good on its mission of being fair and attractive to business development. Like any organization, this is owed to its people, and Vista has managed to attract truly impressive, professional, committed, accessible, and ethical talent at all levels that we have encountered. Being able to reach and get meaningful help and problem-solving focus from the City’s highest managers has made all the difference in the success of our work there and our perceptions shared here.”
A very large project Davis and his team recently developed in Vista was an existing property with a vacant retail pad nearby. Black Lion President Robert Rivani saw an opportunity to buy the vacant land next to it and develop a grocery store on the neighboring property. Davis explained, “Our intention was to give it a thorough upgrade and reposition it to attract a great tenant mix for the residents of Vista. That shopping center was located next to vacant land, and our President, Robert Rivani, got the idea of buying the vacant land, developing a grocery store on that land, and combining it with our existing shopping center to make it an even more compelling grocery store-anchored shopping center.”
The grocery store that was to be developed is Vista's new Sprouts store that opened in October 2019. The decision to locate there came with both excitement and obstacles.
“We chose that Sprouts location because it presented an opportunity to create a seamless, larger, more useful, combined shopping center,” Davis said. “While we were heartened by the unusually enthusiastic response to our plans by the neighboring residents of Vista - who roundly supported our bringing to them the center we envisioned - we faced the same obstacles that are typically faced by any developer in terms of design plans, entitlements, contractor bidding, pre-development, and development. While we were very grateful not to have to face community resistance, we did face from time to time unusual challenges.”
Improving the existing buildings and site and adding a new anchor market did not come easy. “Our firm was hit with many development challenges due to various unforeseeable circumstances that involved numerous federal, state, and county agencies and other community stakeholders taking interest in what we hoped to bring to Vista,” Davis said. “When our team could not solve a particularly thorny issue in a given instance with a large outside agency - whether it was grading challenges with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, site monitoring by a local Native American tribe, or getting the major utility company to deliver power in time to make an unmovable deadline - John Conley the Director of Community Development & Engineering and Kevin Ham were especially resourceful and happy to advocate for fast and meaningful results for our project.”
Davis credits Conley and Ham and their teams for going the extra mile and making efforts to help solve their challenges along the way with both speed and thoroughness. “Mr. Ham’s willingness and ability to help us solve the bigger challenges that were out of our reach, along with the steadfast and similarly impressive assistance and fair cooperation week in and week out from the city’s Director of Community Development & Engineering, Mr. John Conley, and Principal Planner, Mr. Michael Ressler, all were the keys to our delivering this important and well-received Sprouts Farmers Market development to Vista.”
And, he added that it was due to the assistance of the City Team that this project was a success. “Our Vista projects could not have been advanced and developed as well as they were without the steady, supportive, common-sense, and talented team led by Mr. Conley, Mr Ham and Mr. Ressler.”
Repurposing a Giant Space
Arik Stark of Cushman and Wakefield
Arik Stark is Vice Chairman of Cushman and Wakefield, a global commercial real estate services company. “We are a brokerage but we manage all assets. I’m on the capital market side, where we work in development and investment sales, that sort of thing. We also bring fairly large tenants to the City,” explained Stark.
Stark believes Vista is a great place to invest in not only because of its great North County location but also because it is home to many successful businesses, from manufacturing, to research and development, to retail. “People are looking for space that meets their needs,” he said. They are looking at a number of things - affordability, wages, real estate costs, and location to serve clients. Vista happens to be very central, and it’s affordable.”
In the City of Vista, Stark was tasked with the disposition of a 221,660 square foot space formerly occupied by the Japanese manufacturing company Denso. This property had many potential uses, as Stark explained, “We came up with a lot of different concepts for R&D companies, distribution, even some retail and we were able to interface with the City and get favorable responses on what we needed to prior to going out to the investment community.”
He said once they had the concepts in place, they presented them to various investment communities so they could see the property’s potential. “Because this particular property had excess parking, some people wanted to see it potentially rezoned as retail, or have the building expanded. We had a plan for expanding the building as well as a myriad of different uses.”
Stark explained that because of the responsiveness of Kevin Ham and John Conley, they were able to ensure that the concepts they designed were also feasible. This allowed them to sell the asset to an investor who was looking at all the various different uses. “
“We ultimately were talking to groups that were in the biotech arena, we talked to groups that were thinking of converting it into a retail use as well.”
The group that ended up leasing the property with a 10-year agreement is a distribution company that distributes straight to the user.
Because of the responsiveness of the City Team, Stark said things were expedited very quickly. “We were able to get clarity on some very specific things that they needed to be done to the property and the site, and the City was more than responsive. More responsive than I’ve seen most municipalities - I would say twice as fast as most, and they were also great at interfacing directly with the client as well.”
Stark and his team have managed quite a few properties and businesses in Vista and he thinks it is a great city to do business in because, “they interface well with existing and potential businesses and it’s not a wait and see game; they are very proactive with access to city manager, and council, and the mayor, and their responsiveness is key.”
Stark also believes that Vista’s leaders understanding of being business-friendly helps everyone in Vista. “It’s a partnership where they are really good at building their employment base, because employees are also residents that are fueling retail and housing and it feeds itself.”
Economic Development contact for the City of Vista:
Economic Development Director