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Biotech and more envisioned at RiverView center in Santee

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RiverView in Santee has more than 100 acres of office space that could be filled by biotech companies.

Santee may not become “La Jolla East,” but the biotech/bioscience industry that in part defines west-of-Interstate 5 communities like Sorrento Valley and those in the shadow of UCSD may be expanding eastward.

The RiverView at Santee project, being developed by Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies, will occupy 104 acres east of the Santee Trolley Center and bordering the south bank of the San Diego River. The 1.9 million square feet of acreage is fronted by Mission Gorge Road, Cuyamaca Street and Magnolia Avenue.

In addition to supporting a 10- to 12-screen movie-theater complex, a new campus for El Cajon-based San Diego Christian College and residential space, the multi-use development will have a major office presence, some of which may be filled by biotech companies.

To that end, Pacific Cornerstone Architects Inc., headquartered in biotech-heavy Sorrento Valley, is working with Ryan Companies.

Also on the RiverView team are the city of Santee and the county of San Diego, which owns the land.

Pacific Cornerstone Architects, an 18-year-old firm with a staff of 10, specializes in “developer-related projects” with an emphasis on biotech and bioscience, said PCA principal Kevin Perry, who’s been on board since 1999. “The goal is to provide the city of Santee with a dynamic environment for a variety of corporate and residential users in an attractive, walkable and cohesive environment,” he said. The growth of the biotechnology presence in Southern California has by no means peaked, said Perry, who believes that companies in that industry will be lured to RiverView by the large parcels of land available for offices and research and development.

“The long-held vision is that as commercial office space for R&D, for biotech, for corporate offices fills up, these types of businesses would be looking for available land with good access to freeways and an airport [Gillespie Field], and RiverView is in a position to be just that,” said Keith Till, Santee city manager.

Master planning for RiverView began in early 2001. At this point, about 15 percent of the project is built out, including buildings occupied by Hartford Financial Services that were completed in 2003. The entire acreage master plan received city of Santee and county approval in January 2006.

The recently penned San Diego Christian College lease calls for a gradual occupation of buildings at RiverView as classrooms, administrative offices, a chapel and a bookstore beginning in the fall of 2013, when 475 students and 28 faculty members will arrive.

“On numerous levels it can have a positive effect,” Till said. “First, by providing within our community access to higher education for residents. It also brings in professors and students and staff that taken together will create a multiplier effect that will be beneficial to retail businesses and restaurants.”

RiverView at Santee is aptly named given its proximity to the San Diego River.

The design and landscaping of the project is intended to take advantage of the natural surroundings.

“It’s a great community,” Perry said. “Pedestrian walkways, bikeways, lots of water features. The large development areas are closely tied to the abundant existing infrastructure and to the adjacent San Diego River corridor.”

The use of earthtones and natural materials is also in concert with the environs.

“We wanted to keep the relationship with the San Diego River, as well as Santee’s past,” Perry added. “We wanted it natural-looking but high-tech and polished to attract the companies we want.”

Another intention of the project is to establish a “reverse-commute” in this part of East County.

If realized, commuters would come to Santee in the mornings and leave at the end of the day rather than the other way around. Perry expects this feature to be a key selling point to potential tenants.

“Our research is showing that a significant population of people who work in [biotech] come from the East County,” said John Olsen of the Santee Chamber of Commerce. “We’re hoping that if we can bring some of those industries into town, we’ll also be bringing those families into town. We think that as it’s planned out [RiverView] is going to have a positive effect on the business community and definitely a positive effect on the community at large.”

Construction has had to take into account the proximity of the recently expanded Las Colinas Detention Facility, but Perry said the presence of the women’s jail was not a major concern of the developer.

On the positive side, the nearby Santee Trolley Center will make RiverView easily accessible.

Perry is particularly pleased with the relationship established with San Diego Christian College. A higher institution as a tenant had not been envisioned at the start, but it’s “a great fit,” he said.

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