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New projects keep Escondido's economy strong

A wide range of new development is expanding Escondido's business base and creating even more opportunities within the city for residents and the surrounding communities.

"Escondido not only visions for the future, it makes it happen by being an active partner providing resources, facilitation, incentives and whatever it takes to retain good business and to attract desired business," said Jo Ann Case, manager of Escondido's Economic Development Division. "Right now, we've got some very exciting projects under way that will serve our community well."

Construction could begin as early as 2003 on the Escondido Research & Technology Center (ERTC), a $100 million to $150 million, 150-acre project anchored by the $350 million, 500-megawatt, Sempra (NYSE: SRE) natural gas fired power plant. The remaining acreage will be dedicated to a landscaped business park with high architectural standards, a trail system and close proximity to Highway 78. The Sempra plant has been designed to be unobtrusive and orient away from the larger lots where campus-type development can occur. Sempra is working with JRMC Real Estate, a local development company, which will oversee the planning, sales and construction of the technology center part of the project.

"With a dwindling supply of land along I-15 and in North County, we know that more tech businesses wanted to be here but found it difficult to find available buildings and vacant land," said Case, who oversees business development, revitalization and retention. "Now is an ideal time to work with the developer to discuss location within the ERTC and its specific needs before final plans are developed affording it tremendous flexibility in the project.

"The city is targeting more technology businesses because Escondido's existing businesses already provide a wide range of support services and manufacturing to the technology and R&D businesses throughout San Diego County," she added.

Case also noted that Escondido has a number of technology workers living in the city, but many of them have to leave the area to work.

"The available jobs for these workers will significantly increase with the ERTC project," Case said.

According to Ed Gallo, Escondido City Council Member, the ERTC will impact Escondido and North County, providing both investment and job opportunities. "For residents of Escondido and the surrounding communities, this means more and greater career options without the commute," he said.

Currently under construction is the Gateway Center -- a $20 million, 116,000-square-foot retail and office project located next to Escondido's Transit Center and slated to open by the end of the year. It will provide new spacious stores for Michaels (NYSE: MIK) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), new offices for Rancho Santa Fe Bank, and include Banner Mattress, Panda Express and several more retail and office tenants.

The La Terraza project area on I-15 between Ninth Avenue and Valley Parkway has built a 38,000-square-foot 24-Hour World Fitness Center, adding to the Auto Club and Discover Infinity which are located there; this is prime, highly visible real estate with acreage reserved for a hotel, restaurant and approximately 170,000 square feet of office space.

The 11-acre El Mercado Area Development project area is located along four blocks between Valley Parkway on the north, Pine Street on the east, Fourth Avenue on the south and Quince Street on the west. Intersecting streets also include Grand, Second and Third Avenues. It will incorporate a celebration of Escondido's social history, agricultural dominance and wine production, with mixed-use retail and office space and residential development. The city is currently investing $750,000 in infrastructure improvements.

Toyota of Escondido has just purchased a 12-acre parcel of city-owned land at Highway 78 and Broadway for $5.75 million to expand its successful dealership.

Mi Guadalajara is planning to open its $1.5 million, two-story restaurant with seating for 300 and two banquet rooms in May 2002; this constitutes a major new construction investment in the El Mercado area. Avelino and Maria Estrada have closed escrow on several lots adjacent to their long established Estrada's Restaurant at Quince Street and Third Avenue, adjacent to the new Mi Guadalajara; the Estradas are planning a restaurant expansion, plaza area and retail space.

"There are many other new and expanded projects in Escondido that bring us a good mix of nationally branded retailers, regional businesses, professional and retail entrepreneurs and additional industrial space," Case said.

Current projects include:

* Restaurants -- Kan Sha, Bistro 221, Taste of Florence, Vincent's Sirinos;

* Retail -- Tweeters, The Little Bookstore & Olive Merchant, Cost Plus, Oh Baby, Mercedes of Escondido, Cush Volvo, Walgreens, Albertson's super store, Home Depot;

* Services -- White & Bright Law Offices, Morgan Stanley, Community National Bank Corporate, Robert James, Architect;

* Industrial -- 153,000 square feet of new industrial space in the vicinity of the Wineridge Industrial Park

Still on Case's wish list for Escondido is development of both a movie theatre complex and one or more hotels.

"Timing is everything," she said. "Prior to 9/11 we were working with a hotel developer who was finalizing the details of its financing. Post-9/11 they're looking at new options because acquisition of financing for hotels dried up instantaneously. The same thing has happened with pursuing a movie theater. Mid-to-late last year, several major movie theatre operators filed for bankruptcy, and as a result it is very difficult to get financing at this time."

In the meantime, Escondido leadership and the city staff are focused on facilitating projects that are currently under way while looking for opportunities to ensure the future and quality of life residents have come to expect.

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