Vista Terrace Marketplace was built nearly 70 years ago, and it had the signs of wear and tear to prove it! At the onset of Black Lion’s project, it included an empty piece of land, with no prior vision on how the property could morph into a viable asset in the present day. To paint a picture of the property at the time of Black Lion’s purchase, there was across the street a popular sleeping area for countless of the city’s homeless. In other words, to transform this space would take extra effort and care. When Black Lion purchased the shopping center, there was an upscale grocery store across the street, surrounded by several parcels of empty farmland. To attract other national tenants, Black Lion courted the popular national grocery chain Sprouts. Once Sprouts signed on, other large tenants began to follow suit. However, there were two major disruptions to development. First, although a third-party consultant had determined that the vacant land had no water feature concerns at all, the Army Corps of Engineers later determined that a shallow and almost imperceptible ravine on the land fell within its jurisdiction and required many months of engineering consideration. Second, the survey team found that the same vacant land may be of interest to Native American tribes as a possible ancient burial ground. These unforeseeable twists brought the project to a screeching halt. For many development teams, these barriers would have tanked the venture, but Black Lion was diligent and disciplined about handling this difficult news with the highest level of respect and attention.
The team not only called upon its own know-how and the resources and expertise of top professionals and City and County stakeholders to satisfy the many requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers, the team had to repeat those steps multiple times as A.C.E. suffered through local case manager turnover. Despite the major delay, the Black Lion team was able to research and invoke guidelines that resulted in a most favorable, no-impact determination by A.C.E. and their approval for the team to proceed as planned. Similarly, Black Lion engaged not one but two Native American site monitors to help plan and oversee the excavation and ground work needed to create a new engineered pad for Sprouts. Thankfully, the long process of careful ground development revealed no native artifacts at all, the site was not determined to be an ancient site of interest, and the Native American tribes involved approved our site to proceed as planned. Although Black Lion was heartened by those good results and the respectful path to achieving them, those unforeseeable obstacles and delays that were out of the team’s hands nevertheless allowed Sprouts to delay its store opening and rent commencement, thus costing Black Lion nearly $2 Million in lost rental income. The company also had to redo much of the new sewer system in order to accommodate the changed requirements of the City, which cost Black Lion nearly $2 Million more than budgeted. Despite all these significant delays and losses at the beginning of the project, the company’s perseverance allowed it to regroup quickly and start earning a significant ROI.
Once Sprouts opened to the public, customers heaped heavy praise on the resulting, combined neighborhood center that Black Lion created, and commercial tenants began flocking to this appealing property. That included major national chains that signed up, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, O’Reilly Auto, Jersey Mike’s Subs, and Sport Clips.
Black Lion’s winning strategy for this project involved the combination of a few popular ideas such as securing strong anchor clients, improving on outdated design concepts, and having the fortitude to see the project through all the way to completion (despite several initial setbacks). The one key to consistent success in redevelopments is the same simple premise that Black Lion was built on: creating new value within communities by reimagining what is possible. For redevelopments to look appealing with the existing base of a building, it is imperative that the new vision works with the existing framework. This presented an opportunity for Black Lion to make a bold stylistic choice that harmonizes the prior, renovated structures with the new Sprouts store, creating a look and feel that will be paying dividends for years to come. Commercial real estate companies must be savvy in how they weigh the high investment cost of capital improvements versus potential future yield. Many companies choose to use clunky or generic materials to save on costs. Unfortunately, that effectively reduces the stature of a building. Instead, to make this center more receptive to people driving by, Black Lion used architectural insight to elongate surfaces and fixtures. From the street, this makes the buildings appear taller, more inviting, and gives the presentation that the center is something one needs to check out. It also has the added benefit of creating the perception of a more opened up space to its operators and patrons. The Black Lion redevelopment team used an appealing grain of wood on the facade and chose to pair this with metal awnings to give the buildings an attractive mixed-media edge. Then, Black Lion added a lighter trim that really topped off the property, making it appear more inviting and warm, as opposed to blocky and enclosed. And using light colors in key areas made the structures look taller, which makes more of a statement. Other retail properties like Vista Terrace Marketplace typically fall back to stone and white paint; Black Lion wanted to do something different, go a direction that people were not used to seeing in similar spaces. This approach to quality design also got the attention of national chains, as they understand the impact it can have on attracting patrons and transforming a property into a bustling shopping area. Black Lion brought the first new Dunkin' Donuts to metro San Diego to spice up the interest in Vista Terrace Marketplace. The company was able to attract droves of people to the donut and coffee giant in part by placing an AT&T store in a prime location, to sell the property and attract eager shoppers to the shopping center. Dunkin' was a phenomenal success—they earned more than $10,000 per day in sales, and residents of the community voiced their enthusiasm about the store’s well-timed arrival. Soon, other tenants began flocking to the property.