News Article | 9/20/2007

Renaissance Rialto project might get radical face-lift

RIALTO – The project this city has pinned its hopes on for a better future will not only be delayed, but could also be in for a complete overhaul.

The weak housing market – August home sales in the region were 37 percent below average – has delayed the Renaissance Rialto project and could alter the character of Rialto’s 210 Freeway corridor.

“We may be considering some more radical changes,” said Robb Steel, the city’s economic development director.

Recently, the project’s developers, a partnership between the Lewis Group and Texas-based Hillwood, have considered replacing some or all of the housing in the 1,500-acre mixed-use development with industrial facilities. The commercial portion of the project would remain.

The Renaissance Rialto project, which will replace Rialto’s airport and other available land along the 210 extension, is at the heart of the city’s plans to improve its image and its economic base.

But the project’s housing component would not be the only Rialto housing development to be scratched or altered because of the slow market. Only a few weeks ago, Young Homes sold property on Rialto’s south end to an industrial developer instead of building more than 720 homes there.

The original Renaissance plans called for almost 4,000 homes. Now ideas ranging from no homes to 1,000 homes to the full 4,000 are floating around, Steel said.

A meeting Thursday night between members of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee and the developers did not go well, said Councilman Ed Scott, a member of the committee.

“They presented a proposal, and I don`t like their proposal,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the council would approve what he saw. “So we sent them back to the drawing board.”

Lewis is still optimistic about the project, said Randall Lewis, the group’s executive vice president.

“We’re trying to finalize land-use recommendations, and we’re trying to understand the impact of changes in the economy. We still think it’s a very well-located development, and it will be an asset to the city,” he said.

If the project takes on more of an industrial focus, that would almost certainly mean distribution warehouses and trucks to service them would pop up along the 210.

“I certainly don’t want all industrial,” said Councilwoman Winnie Hanson.

But she said she expects the number of homes in the project to be reduced and said that industrial development would make more money for the city.

“We’re weighing the advantages to the city of the proposed changes,” she said.

Councilman Joe Baca Jr., who was never thrilled with the old plans – he rated a May presentation about the retail zone a “C-” at best – said he doesn’t want the city to be defined as strictly a bedroom community.

“But I think at the end of the day, we`re looking at what can we do to generate more revenue,” he said, noting that residential development would require the city to pay more for city services, especially public safety.

He said he wants more retail in the project and said he has even been approached about the idea of locating a St. Bernardine Medical Center hospital facility in the project.

There are a number of different concepts going back and forth between Rialto and Lewis, Steel said.

“I think that they’re probably going to do a lot more tweaking,” Hanson said.