Redding’s No. 1 Priority: More Retail?

The expansion of the Oasis Road/Interstate 5 interchange would set the table for a large commercial retail development on land on the east side of I-5.

Among the primary arguments for developing the Oasis area into a retail sector is that it’s the last open freeway stretch in the city. Proponents believe it would secure a retail advantage for Redding and thus generate more sales tax revenue, a huge portion of the city’s bottom line.

On Tuesday night, the Redding City Council voted 4-1 in favor of asking the federal government for $5 million toward the interchange expansion. The request is for the Oasis interchange to be included with the 2011 Transportation Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill.

Redding mayor Patrick Jones referred to the project as the city’s No. 1 priority several times during Tuesday’s meeting.

Last month, Jones traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and others to lobby for the interchange funding. Jones’ trip to Washington was paid for by developer Don Levenson, who owns much of the land off Oasis and who plans to build a good portion of the new retail space there.

Upon returning from Washington, Jones was notified by Redding City Manager Kurt Starman that he should reimburse Levenson the $2,805 he received for the trip, based on advice from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Jones did just that, out of his own pocket.

Much of the issue at Tuesday’s meeting was whether Jones should step aside during the city council’s vote on the matter. City attorney Rick Duvernay provided a long explanation that basically reiterated that the trip on Levenson’s dime was a conflict that could disqualify Jones from the vote. But in the end, Duvernay and the city left the decision up to Jones.

Jones, of course, didn’t step aside and did in fact vote for the measure.

Councilmember Mary Stegall, the lone dissenter on the vote, said that the Oasis development was not her No. 1 priority. She said a new police station and other road projects supersede the Oasis interchange in her mind. Although she joined others in praising Jones for his initiative in traveling to Washington on behalf of the project, she questioned whether more retail development should really be Redding’s No. 1 priority.

Perhaps the Oasis Road/I-5 interchange expansion is a viable project on its own. There’s been a lot of residential growth in the area and the interchange sees a lot more traffic than it did a few decades ago.

But considering that there are already a number of vacant big-box stores throughout Redding, is developing a new commercial retail center off Oasis really a sound endeavor?

If a large portion of retail traffic is driven to a new area like Oasis, what does that mean for businesses that remain in the Dana Drive/Hilltop area? Isn’t it fair to assume that we would see more empty buildings like Mervyns, Gottschalks and Circuit City, not to mention the multitude of empty spaces throughout Redding strip malls?

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Mervyns, one of the Dana Drive area’s currently empty big-box spaces.

One appeal of the Oasis site seems to be its proximity to the freeway. One big player in this mix is Costco.

Costco wants to expand to a larger store. (Side note: I was just in Costco the other day and the place just seems so massively cavernous to me. I was worn out walking around in there. And they need a much bigger store? Why don’t I get the supersize culture?)

Anyway, perhaps the fear is that Costco would relocate to a site just outside of the city limits (perhaps someplace right off I-5, like, say near Knighton Road) — and goodbye supersized sales tax revenue for Redding.

But if Wal-Mart can supersize itself right on its same site, can’t Costco? (The answer may be no. I haven’t asked the right person yet.)

According to Scott Mobley’s reporting in the Record Searchlight, developer Levenson won approval in 2006 to build a 302,238-square-foot shopping center off of Oasis Road. The center would be just a portion of 2.5 million square feet of retail space that the city hopes to develop there in the coming years.

But it all hinges on the widening and expansion of the Oasis Road interchange, which would facilitate safe traffic flow into the area.

But when it comes to a new Oasis Road retail development, I can’t help but think about what happened back in the day when Dana Drive dealt a death blow to retail in downtown Redding. Couldn’t a case be made that we’re just repeating that cycle? Would we be creating mini ghost towns all around Redding?

As Stegall mentioned, why is building a new big-box retail center viewed as a huge boon and savior for the city? Corporate retail wages are inherently low and company profits are funneled right out of town. They’re like British Empire colonies — local retailers are obliterated, we get low wage jobs and our diamonds disappear to someplace like Bentonville, Arkansas.

But developers have such a big influence on our civic leaders. Development certainly stimulates the economy, but perhaps it’s prudent to ask what kind of development best suits Redding and where should it take place?

I remember when I first came to Redding and tried to determine where the true center of town was. I went downtown and got confused because there wasn’t much going on there. Then I found the Dana Drive/Hilltop area and figured it was the city’s focal point. But then I found the Lake Boulevard area and thought, well, this is a large pocket of commerce, too.

Redding confused me back then. Two decades later, it still does.

jim-dyar-125Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com
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