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The Collection in Oxnard nears its two-year anniversary [Ventura County Star, Calif. :: ]
[August 24, 2014]

The Collection in Oxnard nears its two-year anniversary [Ventura County Star, Calif. :: ]

(Ventura County Star (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 24--OXNARD, Calif. -- If success continues for The Collection, Oxnard's evolving shopping and dining center, it could be a model for brick and mortar retail.

October marks the second anniversary since developers declared the multifaceted center open, and it is "succeeding as originally envisioned," said James Williams, vice president of marketing and communications for the center's Aliso Viejo developer, Shea Properties. It owns the center with Los Angeles investment firm Oak Tree Capital Management L.P.

A $250 million project that had to wait out the Great Recession to launch, The Collection at RiverPark has been making up for lost time. The vast, 700-acre site off Highway 101 at North Oxnard Boulevard and Vineyard Avenue has opened 34 tenants to date that generated more than $57 million in sales in 2013, according to Oxnard's sales tax revenue data.

"This center was originally supposed to open in 2009," Williams said. "It's been a tough road, but we're making some really good progress." The Collection strives to resemble a downtown area with streets, parks, fountains, playgrounds and artwork. Visitors attend concerts and a Christmas tree lighting, ice skate in the winter and take salsa lessons. There's also grocery, discount and apparel shopping; gyms/spas; small businesses; and housing.

The Collection officially opened in October 2012 with the debut of the Century RiverPark 16 movie theater. Pedestrian traffic there has since grown, with a recent concert that kick-started the center's free concert series bringing in an estimated 4,000 people, said Erica Boatman-Dixon, marketing director for the center's property manager, marketer and co-leasing agent, CenterCal Properties LLC of El Segundo.

Those events, particularly the tree lighting and the opening of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill restaurant, have driven much of the foot traffic, Boatman-Dixon said.

"They'll (the restaurants) end up with a wait time of an hour to an hour and a half" after popular events, Boatman-Dixon said. "It's definitely working." She and her staff follow up with the retailers after each event to gauge its success, she said, but traffic varies based on an event's popularity, Boatman-Dixon said.

The center's anchors -- a Target Corp. store, Whole Foods Market, the movie theater and a California Welcome Center -- also have brought people in, along with any new shop or eatery openings, she said.

Those anchor stores make the center a one-stop place to shop for Nicole Kennedy, who also lives at the Mosaic apartments within RiverPark, the name for The Collection and its adjacent condos and apartments.

"I don't branch out much for shopping because it's so convenient," Kennedy said, while walking her shih tzu through the parks and along the streets on a recent Wednesday afternoon.

Kennedy says her Ventura friends often drive to The Collection for certain restaurants. They park at her complex on the weekend nights when space gets tight at the center, she said.

"It's definitely a happening place," Kennedy said.

Retailers tell Boatman-Dixon they are pulling in shoppers from the rest of Oxnard, Camarillo, Ventura and people heading to Santa Barbara.

"It certainly seems that as the plan was to make the center a lifestyle center, and attract from the region as a whole, that particularly seems to be on point," she said.

Parents watching their children play at one of the playgrounds Wednesday afternoon say they come to the center for those play areas and the nearby bathrooms, but also the cleanliness, free concerts, "up and coming" and diverse restaurants and lack of crowds that indoor malls have.

"It's quiet; not crazy, and not too crowded," said Wendy Galindo of Ventura, who regularly brings her 5-year-old daughter to play at the center. "It's more relaxing for a family." Restaurants were the first focus of The Collection's leasing efforts, Williams said, because brick and mortar stores are competing against online shopping in this "new world." "Restaurants are something you can't order online," he said.

The Collection's monetary value to the city has increased during most quarters since it opened.

Oxnard collects 1 percent in tax revenue from sales generated within the city. The Collection produced $145,000 in tax revenue in the city's first quarter of 2014, up from $106,000 a year ago. Back when the center opened in later 2012, tax revenue was only $76,000, according to Oxnard's data.

In comparison, Oxnard Marketplace on East Ventura Boulevard, generated $656,000 during the same first quarter.

The Collection's muscle has affected some Oxnard businesses and those in other nearby cities, if only temporarily. A 117,500-square-foot Target in Oxnard's Esplanade Shopping Center closed so the 150,000-square-foot Target could open at The Collection.

Also in Oxnard, the Plaza Cinemas 14 movie theater saw ticket sales drop in the first few months of the Century RiverPark 16's opening. The theater has since added theme-park like effects to one of its theaters to combat the competition.

And in east Ventura, Cinemark USA Inc. closed the Century Theater off Johnson Drive to open the Century RiverPark, leaving a shopping center without a key anchor.

Despite some initial issues, Oxnard Chief Financial Officer Jim Cameron says The Collection hasn't had major impacts.

"You're not seeing reductions in sales tax revenues in existing areas of the city," he said.

As of August, The Collection is 62 percent leased, according to Peter Houck, vice president of properties for CenterCal Properties. That excludes Target and vacant areas reserved for future retail, but includes Whole Foods.

When asked if leasing activity is on track, Williams said, "Leasing at The Collection has followed the curve of the economy," but 34 stores are now open. Shea Properties is "very excited" about future tenants, he added.

Marketing and leasing campaigns are now focusing on adding more shops and businesses, said Boatman-Dixon, to give people places to shop after they eat.

Shea Properties and CenterCal Properties say The Collection's success has been in positioning it as "an experience." "In order for a shopping center to compete in this new retail market, where it's up against Internet sales, warehouse stores and a lackluster economy in general, it needs to be more than just a collection of shops; it has to be a destination and a draw," Williams said.

___ (c)2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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