News Article | 7/15/2007

Freeway expansion seen as catalyst for Rialto, San Bernardino development

When Interstate 210 opened in Fontana six years ago, it became an economic artery feeding development and growth into the city.

Rialto and San Bernardino officials say they hope for similar results after this summer’s opening of the final stretch of freeway that will run through both communities.

Planning for development around the freeway is well under way.

Rialto is pinning its hopes on the ambitious Renaissance Rialto project, a 1,500-acre master-planned community along I-210, west of Ayala Avenue where the Rialto Municipal Airport now stands.

San Bernardino officials are hoping for mixed-use development in the area that will breathe life into the city’s struggling Westside.

Three offramps will lead into Rialto at Ayala Drive, Riverside Avenue and at Pepper Avenue once Rialto extends Pepper north to I-210, said Cheryl Donahue, spokeswoman for San Bernardino Associated Governments.

“With the opening of the freeway, there is going to be an explosion of development like in Fontana and revenue is going to be coming in,” Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas said.

Revenue is especially important in Rialto because a special 8 percent utility users tax approved by voters in 2003 to help sustain the city will expire in 2008.

Officials say they hope development and the sales tax revenue generated by the freeway will replace the utility tax, which represents nearly one-fourth of the city’s general fund.

Councilman Joe Baca Jr. has estimated the tax revenue generated by Renaissance Rialto will fall between $2 million and $3 million per year.

Tenants Relocated

Because the project is slated on the Rialto airport’s land, the remaining 127 tenants must be relocated.

The process will begin six months after approval of the project’s environmental impact review, specific plan and development agreement, which is expected to occur in November, records show.

Commercial areas will include a Target, and possibly a Ross, TJ Maxx, Best Buy, Office Depot, Big 5, JoAnn Fabrics and Gold’s World Gym, said Greg Stoffel, of Stoffel & Associates, at a Rialto City Council meeting in May.

The project’s benefit to the city will be tremendous, said Midge Zupanic, president of the Rialto Chamber of Commerce.

“It can’t open too soon,” she said.

“Stores and businesses will be more willing to come to our city because they will have freeway frontage, which translates to a tremendous financial plus for us.”

Councilman Ed Scott said he suspects the selling price for homes near the freeway will be in the $400,000 price range.

Mayor Vargas said she is looking forward to the increase in jobs within Rialto so residents won’t have to travel out of town to work.

San Bernardino officials are excited about having a connector between the city and Los Angeles, said D’Ann Lanning, assistant to San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris.

More Visitors Expected

“We will have more visitors and shoppers coming through the city, perhaps even people who had never heard of it before,” Lanning said.

“We are excited to see what happens with economic development because of what has happened in Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.”

There are plans to bring more mixed-use development to San Bernardino, like that seen in Fontana, she said.

Housing units and shopping centers in close proximity will help attract more people to San Bernardino and encourage more shopping, Lanning said.

The opening of the freeway through Fontana catapulted the city’s economy and could do the same for Rialto, San Bernardino and surrounding areas, said Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi.

“I think we planned well in Fontana and leveraged the 210 to the hilt, and now Rialto and San Bernardino have the opportunity to do the same thing,” he said.

The first wave of success came in housing projects moving forward and an immediate increase in the sale price of homes, Nuaimi said.

The same is possible in Rialto and San Bernardino, he said.

Housing Prices Jump

The average selling price for a Fontana home before the freeway opened was between $250,000 and $275,000. The average selling price jumped to between $500,000 and $700,000, Nuaimi said.

“What that translated into was people with higher incomes came to the area, and when the average median income improved, commercial development came,” he said.

The assessed value of property in Fontana was $5.5 billion in 2001.

In 2006 it jumped to $11.85 billion and was projected to hit $14 billion by 2007, Nuaimi said. Sales tax revenue from fiscal 2000-01 was $11.6 million.

The revenue for 2008-09 is projected to be $29 million, Nuaimi said.

The freeway crosses the cities of La Verne, Claremont, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana. When Rialto and San Bernardino are added, the total stretch of roadway will be 28.2 miles, records show.

Interstate 210 is projected to carry an average of 163,000 vehicles per day, once the final 7.25 miles through Rialto and San Bernardino are completed, SANBAG records show.

The new freeway will help relieve Interstate 10 and surface streets such as Foothill Boulevard and Base Line.

More than half of the freeway’s $714 million construction cost has come from a voter-approved tax, Measure I, said SANBAG spokeswoman Donahue. Additional costs were covered by federal, state and city funds, she said.

Inland economist John Husing said that anytime a freeway corridor opens, there will be a positive impact on the economy because it can operate more efficiently.

“The whole stretch of the 10 freeway that goes through Fontana, Bloomington, Colton and Rialto is a parking lot,” Husing said.

Interstate 210 will relieve some pressure there and make the movement of goods more efficient, Husing said.

“The economy of the east San Bernardino Valley, including Rialto will become more efficient because of the extra transportation corridor opening up,” he said.