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Cities Request Proposals For 101-Acre Opportunity Zone Site In Orange County

A 101-acre site that sits in a designated opportunity zone will soon be up for grabs in central Orange County, but will a developer take a chance?

The city of Santa Ana and Garden Grove are making a request for proposals due June 28 on the Willowick Golf Course in west Santa Ana.

Allen Matkins' Sandy Jacobson, CBRE's Jeff Moore, Shopoff Realty Investments' John Santry, Trammell Crow's Tom Bak, KeyBank's John Loshbaugh, Steadfast Cos.' Ella Shaw Neyland and Santa Ana's Kristine Ridge

The city of Garden Grove owns the golf course, the oldest 18-hole golf course in Orange County, but the land is in Santa Ana. The golf course, which sits about 5 miles west of Disneyland, remains open.

The two cities have come to a joint agreement to oversee the development of the land. 

“We want something innovative, something that [the commercial real estate] industry can bring,” Santa Ana City Manager Kristine Ridge said during a Bisnow’s State of Orange County event Wednesday at the Irvine Marriott. “This is a very big opportunity for us here in Central Orange County.”

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu gave the keynote address in which he discussed Anaheim’s development growth from investment in the Resort District where Disneyland and the convention center sit, the Platinum Triangle, the home of the Ducks and Angels, and the Beach Boulevard corridor west of the city.

Sidhu assured those in the crowd that the Angels will remain in Orange County. The baseball team opted out of its lease with the city-owned Angel Stadium a couple of years ago and the two entities are trying to come up with a long-term resolution for the team to stay.

“This is the only home field Mike Trout has ever known and we intend to keep it that way,” Sidhu said.

At the event, Passco founder and CEO William Passo discussed his 40-year career in commercial real estate. Panelists spoke about the influx of new creative offices to the market and the possibility of big tech tenants such as Microsoft and Google coming to the county.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, center, talks to attendees at Bisnow's Orange County State of the Market event Wednesday at the Irvine Marriott.

CBRE Senior Managing Director Jeff Moore said all of the commercial real estate sectors in every part of Orange County are hot.

“Industrial is at a basically zero vacancy level," Moore said. "For retail the thrift centers are under 3% vacancy and the big-boxes have performed well. … Office is under 10%, we’re seeing amenity-driven projects with concierge services, and multifamily is off the chart.

"Everything is good right now," Moore said. "Fingers crossed."

With most of Orange County seeing new developments under construction or in the pipeline, Santa Ana officials are hoping that trend continues and investors and developers will be attracted to the development potential of the Willowick Golf Course.

Santa Ana is on an upswing lately.

The City Council recently approved Centennial Real Estate's plan to transform the MainPlace Mall into a $300M urban mixed-use village. 

Ridge said the city is seeing some interest from developers regarding its opportunity zones that provide a tax incentive to investors that buy or lease assets within certain low-income census tracts. 

About 22% of the city is in a designated opportunity zone. Ridge's team is working on an investment prospectus for potential investors. 

The city is also readying itself for the arrival of the highly anticipated Orange County Streetcar.

The $408M streetcar project broke ground late last year. Slated to open in 2021, the streetcar will travel along a 4.1-mile stretch across parts of Santa Ana and Garden Grove. City officials expect 7,300 riders per day. 

Attendees at Bisnow's Orange County State of the Market at the Irvine Marriott

The streetcar has a proposed stop at the Willowick Golf Course.

“It’s an interesting site," Ridge said of the golf course. "It's on a transit line, it lies in an opportunity zone … there are some single-family homes [nearby] so we ask for any [proposed] development to respect the homes around the area."

Ridge, who spent more than two decades with the city of Anaheim, said she would love to see an Anaheim Packing District-style of development. The Anaheim Packing House is considered one of the best food halls in Orange County. 

The Packing House transformed the downtown Anaheim area, Ridge said. 

But Ridge believes some type of mixed-use housing with open green space and innovative retail will probably be the best use for the golf course site. 

Cushman & Wakefield Associate Matthew Godman, who attended the event, said he does not think investors or developers will be attracted to Willowick just because it lies in an opportunity zone. 

"I don't think you'll see national players coming here for that site," Godman said. "It will be someone on the local level who understands the product and has that local knowledge. ... It's an expensive, high-risk area."

Like Ridge, Godman said he thinks a mix of mixed-income housing, possibly a community center and some retail will be the highest and best use for the site. 

"But it can't have your typical traditional retail," Godman said. "It has to be creative and cater to the neighborhood."

With the streetcar slated to pass through Willowick, Godman said the site has a lot of potential.