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Thursday, Jan 26, 2023
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Desert Business Park Has Been Hot – And Cold

Set on 240 acres and bordered on one side by the Metrolink railroad tracks, the Lancaster Business Park exemplifies the aspirations and challenges of high desert development. More than 30 years after the dirt was first turned over at the public-private project at Sierra Highway and East Avenue L, it has yet to be built out. What’s more, tenancy and employment are down from its peak in 2012 when there were more than 4,000 workers employed by 100 or so light-industrial and white collar businesses. But the park is in its fourth and final phase with the remaining empty parcels being marketed to potential buyers. The newest company, Morton Manufacturing, relocated from Santa Clarita just last year bringing 200 jobs to join the likes of recreational vehicle manufacturer Lance Camper, office supply business and check printer Deluxe Corp. and delivery company FedEx Corp. “It has been our leading job generator,” said Vern Lawson, the economic development director for Lancaster. “It was started with the recognition many years ago you could not attract industry if you did not have sites for them.” The master-planned park dates back to 1980 when it was one of five areas designated by Lancaster for industrial development by the city’s then-redevelopment agency. The city provided the infrastructure, building out streets and sidewalks. The infrastructure of the first two phases was completed in the early 1980s and a third phase by 1991. The city then sold off lots ranging from one-half to 15 acres to private developers who graded the land and constructed the buildings for lease or sale. The 88,000-square-foot Morton facility was built on land carved out of a 21-acre parcel Lancaster developer Frank Visco bought from the city in 2012 for about $2.6 million. The city kicked in $1.8 million for a new street, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and underground utilities. His remaining acreage has been subdivided into four parcels that can accommodate smaller projects of up to 50,000 square feet. At the moment, there are no plans to build on any of them, said Visco, who also owns an insurance agency in Lancaster. “You never know when these things are going to come up,” he said. “I want to find the best way to partner with the city to create jobs and commerce.” Ongoing efforts The Morton relocation hinged on the sale of the 21 acres of vacant land. The city wanted to sell off the entire property but there were not many developers willing to take on that size investment. But Visco, who had been aware through real estate brokers that Morton was looking to relocate, took the risk. “That was the only way I could end up with the 9 acres for Morton Manufacturing,” he said. Lawson said the developer’s willingness to meet the city’s terms was critical. “Had he not stepped up to buy the whole lot it would not have happened,” Lawson added. Another of Visco’s projects at the business park, however, has not progressed on a similar path. A call center originally built for Countrywide Financial in 2002 sits empty. It was acquired by Bank of America when the Charlotte, N.C. bank bought struggling Countrywide Financial Services in Calabasas in 2008. But the 100,000-square-foot call center and a smaller adjacent office building and its hundreds of employees are no longer needed as the number of homeowners with distressed mortgages has decreased. Los Angeles developer Nelson Rising and his firm Rising Realty Partners bought the Lancaster buildings and eight others owned by Bank of America elsewhere in the greater Valley last year with the intention of selling or leasing them. The asking rate according to online commercial real estate website LoopNet is 90 cents a square foot per month. Kimberly Maevers, chief executive of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance, a regional business advocacy group, said the call center is one of two in Lancaster that is empty. The second is a call center formerly operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. at Avenue J-8 and 15th Street West. That center closed a year ago with the loss of more than 300 jobs. The quickest way for either building to be occupied is by another call center because the technology is already in place. “Tenant improvement would be all that was needed for another type of user,” Maevers said. Meanwhile, Lancaster still owns 9 acres of land at the Lancaster Business Park that it would like to get into the hands of an expanding or relocating business. The city’s big sell is touting the valley’s lower costs. “They can save money on land and money on labor so they don’t have to leave California,” Lawson said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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