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Close-Up: Rob Hixson

CBRE VP tackles challenges of border construction

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Rob Hixson, a CBRE senior vice president and a six-year chair of the Otay Mesa Planning Group, leaps into his work whether it is the update of the community plan, or building more than 360 houses for the homeless in Tijuana.

Hixson, who has been working on and across the border for more than 25 years, said the recent opening of state Route 905 between Interstate 805 and the Otay Mesa Border Crossing is an important step, but that considerably more infrastructure will be needed to ensure the mesa is a viable place from which to conduct business.

Next, Hixson is awaiting the start of construction of SR 11 — a 2.5-mile toll road that will connect SR 905 and SR 125 and the proposed new port of entry on eastern Otay Mesa. In Mexico the corridor will lead to both the Tijuana-to-Ensenada and the Tijuana-to-Tecate free and toll roads. The highway is tentatively slated for completion in 2015.

Getting the new port of entry completed is another task.

“That has to be financed with the tolls,” Hixson said, adding that a great deal of business is lost because of the inability to cross the border in a timely manner.

Hixson said while industrial uses surround the existing Otay Mesa Crossing, the area around the second port of entry doesn't exclusively have to be industrial.

“Otay II is a blank sheet of paper,” Hixson added. “We don't have a lot of retail planned around the new border crossing, but we could move the original retail overlay from SR 125 to Otay II.”

When it is up and running, Hixson said, the new border crossing should be the most technologically advanced of its kind anywhere.

Rob Hixson is a CBRE senior vice president and a six-year chair of the Otay Mesa Planning Group. Staff photo: Sarah Strong

“There's eye-recognition software out there that could be used, and there will be better ways to move trailers into a secure facility,” Hixson said.

A new border crossing would provide easier access to the estimated 50 million square feet of industrial space in Tijuana as well as the approximately 13 million square feet industrial/warehouse space on Otay Mesa.

While the Mexican maquiladoras were hurt during the recession due to competition from China, Hixson said higher wages and prices plus the cost of overseas shipping makes the “near-shoring” option attractive once more.

“There is a huge medical device business in Tijuana. Companies don't want to build medical devices in China, and the defense industry is in Tijuana, too,” Hixson said.

These businesses, in turn, make the new border crossing that much more important.

Just having a new border crossing won't be enough in Hixson’s view, however. The Otay Mesa Planning Group chair said that if, as is the case in Arizona, the truck weight limit could be increased from 25 to 40 tons within a predetermined area, the new crossing could be significantly more productive.

In the meantime, Hixson is excited that a groundbreaking could be held before the end of the year on the cross border terminal that will allow travelers to cross from the United States to Rodriguez Field to catch international flights.

“Everything is done on both sides. All we have to do is get the building permit,” Hixson said.

Infrastructure projects aren't the only things being planned on the mesa; Richard Lee Sax, Premier Jet Co. president, who presided over a major redevelopment at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, hopes to do the same for Brown Field.

“He's planning to design a new corporate facility (for jets and turboprops),” Hixson said. “Now we can get a whole different look, rather than the wrecking yards we have today.”

Hixson, who recalls an industrial lot buying frenzy in the middle of the last decade — only to see a 3 million-square-foot building surplus today — believes Otay Mesa's space will get filled a lot faster than many might think.

“I think the market's coming back fairly quickly,” Hixson said.

While he does expect a major improvement in the coming months and years, Hixson said filling spaces of 200,000 square feet and larger — of which there are several — will still be problematic. He also said he will be happier when more firms are actually leasing industrial buildings rather than many acres of truck yard space.

Imex Transport recently leased 30 acres of space along Airway Road for such a truck yard.

If he has learned anything, Hixson said it is that there are no easy transactions.

“We were working with a construction company on a project that we thought was a slam dunk before we ran into an underground storage tank,” Hixson related.

Environmental regulations have been making matters more difficult as well. Hixson said the presence of burrowing owls have made development significantly more difficult on the mesa.

A major problem with encountering owls and other sensitive species is a new requirement by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that at least half the mitigation land for a development — which equals the amount of the developable land — must be from the same area as that of the impact.

“I know people who have spent more on mitigation land than they have spent on the original piece of property,” Hixson said.

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