Construction worker Jesus Guerrero works on the KB Homes Development in Fontana on Wednesday. (Rachel Luna / Staff Photographer)

 

Ryan Carter, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/25/2012 11:43:21 AM PDT

Take a drive along local freeways on any given day of the work week, and you might see signs of life – economic life.

Developments are popping up – housing and commercial.

They might not be enough to take the Inland Empire off its economic respirator, but they are enough to get some attention in an area hit so hard by the recession.

In Upland, there’s renewed life at the Colonies Crossroads, where construction has started on the next phase of the shopping center at Campus Avenue and 19th Street. Retailers such as Nordstrom Rack, Babies “R” Us and Toys “R” Us, T.J. Maxx as well as Tilly’s and G Stage clothing stores are set to move in.

In Fontana, particularly in the north, new homes are being developed by KB Homes, and some people are actually moving into them after years of a down economy and an anemic housing market.

In Redlands, Walmart wants to build a Supercenter in the Redlands Crossing commercial center.

And San Bernardino and Upland will soon be the homes of two new Walmart Neighborhood Markets.

“When we see an opportunity where we can make a depressed-opportunity purchase, we are going to investe and double-down down into the Inland Empire,” said developer Jeff Burum, co-managing partner of Rancho Cucamonga-based Colonies Partners LP.

In other words, builders and developers are getting at it while the going is still good – or cheap.

For Burum, that means seeking out opportunities in the region to buy real estate and develop it while it’s still at a decent rate.

For the retailers that Burum want to develop for, it’s about finding a footing – or establishing footprints in a proven geographic marketplace, he said.

In the case of Walmart’s Neighborhood Markets, that might be what’s going on, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for them to fill a void in their marketplace,” Burum said, adding that his Colonies Crossroads, just off the 210 Freeway, was among the last of prime, ready-to-develop retail space in such a visible location.

For his competitors in the marketplace, the equation is similar, despite a February spike in the price of construction materials, people who study the region’s economy say: The benefit of the downturn is that prices have been so low for things to build with that it’s cheap to build and develop.

It makes sense to build or buy, rather than to wait for the economy to fully rebound, said George Huang, a consultant who specializes in economic analysis in California.

“Right now, it’s actually a good time,” he said. “Construction prices are probably not as high as before due to the lower demand, so you’re looking at prices that are not outrageous.”

In essence, much of the development going on is a result of builders and developers trying to develop before the region actually recovers, because when that recovery comes, that’s when prices will be higher. And that day seems to be coming.

Even Christopher Myers, head of the biggest bank in the Inland Empire – Ontario-based Citizens Business Bank – said last week that he’s optimistic the area is on the road back to recovery.

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