The plan for a proposed 215,000-square-foot shopping center on the southeast corner of Dorsey Drive in Grass Valley quickly became a hot-button issue in recent weeks after the plan was presented to the city’s Development Review Committee in late February.
City leaders, residents and business owners have since taken sides on the issue, some against the project and others promoting it for the potential influx of local revenue the proposed development could bring the city.
Some locals have raised concerns that with local retail properties still sitting vacant, a large shopping center might not be a good idea.
Melissa Kelley, 32, has lived in Grass Valley for more than 20 years and said the city should focus on filling retail vacancies to maintain the area’s “small town feel.”
“I’ve lived in the city, and I moved back here to raise my kids in a place that wasn’t insane with traffic and populated with people who don’t understand the culture and who maybe don’t get the small town feel,” Kelley said.
“We do have so many vacant areas available already. Why aren’t those being utilized? Why aren’t there being promotional offers for those locations to be more accessible, more feasible or affordable for local business owners to occupy the current spaces?”
Empty storefronts around Grass Valley and Nevada City are definitely noticeable — but how many are there?
Sperry Van Ness Highland Commercial, a Nevada City real estate company, tracks all advertised commercial real estate in the Grass Valley and Nevada City regions. Through a proprietary database system, the group calculated the total number of local vacant retail spaces in the area.
Its data found that 2.66 million square feet of retail space exists in both Grass Valley and Nevada City. Of that space, 20 storefronts are currently vacant, making up 116,000 square feet of empty space, which gives both cities a combined vacancy rate of 4.3 percent. In comparison, Sacramento, with a population of around 500,000 people, has a vacancy rate of more than 10 percent.
“When people say there are a lot of vacancies, they’re not looking at the fact that those quote, unquote vacancies are actually businesses that are being moved into,” Grass Valley Downtown Association Executive Director Julia Jordan said.
“Our downtown is actually currently at about a 2.5 percent vacancy rate on the first floor, and on the second floor we’re less than 5 percent, which is fantastic.”
Crystal Coats, 33, owner of Cici’s, a Grass Valley hair salon, said building the shopping center would allow small businesses to possibly move from downtown, where the foot traffic is more tourists, into a cheaper retail space, near brand-name franchises.
“A town has to either thrive or not thrive. Without something that’s going to keep our tax dollars here, like a big name store, the town is not going to survive,” Coats said.
“All the money that we have goes down the hill. I know of tons and tons of people that go down the hill just to get groceries, to get clothing for their kids. I know people that do it more than once a week. We could have that money stay in our city.”
Grass Valley City council member and Economic Resource Council Chair Lisa Swarthout said, though, that proposed franchises may attract consumers but it would not be as beneficial to the local community and would take away from the city’s quality of life.
“If you build a big strip mall kind of center up there, that doesn’t help anybody because it really does take away from the aesthetic that people view as our rural community,” she said. “I lived here before they built Pine Creek shopping center, and I can tell you that was a hill-covered, beautiful site.”
Swarthout added, “In Grass Valley we say that will never happen again the way that that did. So we’re very conscious of how we develop things and what we do here.”
The proposed development’s 26.75-acre site is adjacent to the new off-ramp for the Dorsey Drive interchange and would include 170,875 square feet of retail space, a 30,450-square-foot movie theater and 13,925 square feet for drive-through restaurants. A total of 1,179 parking spaces are also proposed.
“The project will create much-needed local jobs and the opportunity to stem the loss of over $200 million in local spending currently going down the hill each year,” said property owner Russ Jeter.
“Benefits include reducing the amount of driving and the resulting negative impacts occurring from commuting to shop.”
Jeter added, “This is an opportunity for a wide range of new jobs from entry level to management. It’s also an opportunity for new, locally owned and operated businesses and existing local businesses wanting to expand.”
But Duane Strawser, Nevada City councilmember, said building the proposed development would shortchange the city’s local economy in the long run.
“They call it planning by attrition,” Strawser said.
“Which means you just keep putting in more and more so that when something else goes under, or out of business, you still have something left.”
Strawser added, “I mean, seriously, you’re going to put in another theater when you’ve got four theaters currently existing, and those theaters are typically struggling to stay afloat? To me it’s just overgrowth. We have plenty of services in town. You spread out too thin and then everything in the center core of your existence collapses.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
“Why aren’t there being promotional offers for those locations to be more accessible, more feasible or affordable for local business owners to occupy the current spaces?”