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Unexpected delays slow progress at Bixby Point

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bixby-point.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Write

Bixby Point shopping center was supposed to be up and running four months ago, but all its stores are still vacant. No worries, says Mark Bolour, vice president of Bolour & Associates, the company that is developing the site. Unforeseen difficulties delayed construction, but everything is back on track and two of the businesses are planning to open in early May.
“FedEx/Kinko’s and Game Stop are slated to open in the next two weeks,” said Bolour. “Wachovia Bank and La Vineria Italiana (an Italian wine bar and restaurant) are hopefully going to be open in the next four to six weeks. The other two tenants, probably in eight weeks, and we still have not found the last tenant.”
The planned 12,000-square-foot commercial/retail center on the southeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Carson Street has been under construction since late 2007. Bolour notes that he fully expected Bixby Point stores to begin opening in early January, but the heavy rains slowed down construction. “The wet weather really killed us for about three months,” he says. “We had to spend about $100,000 just removing wet dirt and bringing in dry soil so we could pour the asphalt on the property.”
Bureaucratic delays also slowed down progress, according to Bolour. “The second thing that set us back was issues we had with the Long Beach Planning Department,” he says. “They were very inefficient.” He explains that the city was slow in issuing building permits and completing inspections. “They would come and tell us they want one thing, then they would come and check that and come up with six other things,” he said. “That really hurt our construction progress.”
Bolour said that he was not bothered so much by the differences of opinion between the city and the company doing the actual construction work, Primus Contracting. “But we weren’t getting it in one shot,” he said. “They even threatened to shut the project down because they had an issue with a design element.”
Bolour adds that 8th District City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich intervened and helped expedite the permit and inspection process. “She’s been very supportive, constantly helping us,” he said, adding that without Gabelich’s assistance, the project would probably still be mired in bureaucratic delays.
“Sometimes an individual may not see the big picture, and that could be on either side,” Gabelich said. “A couple of things they were required to do didn’t make any sense and I asked (the planning department) to take another look at those things.” She explained that after reconsidering the issues, the planning department agreed to drop the requirements that were stymieing construction.
Another factor in the delayed opening of La Vineria Italiana was money. “Construction of the restaurant was way over budget,” Bolour said. “We had to find creative ways to get that under control and that took more time.” He notes that building the restaurant is costing 25 percent more than expected. “We are trying to create a very nice product, and in the course of building it, we kept making decisions to change things in order to make it better.”
Bolour noted that the nationwide decline in retail sales is impacting Bixby Point. “When we first started marketing it, we were getting about 50 calls a week,” he says. “Now we are getting two or three calls a week.” He adds that the downturn in the economy confirmed the wisdom of pursuing national retail chains as tenants for the shopping center. “If we go after mom and pop stores we would be suffering in a year or two,” he said. “The national chains are going to help the center weather the economic storm in the next two or three years, because they are better equipped to survive downturns.”
Nevertheless, Bolour stresses the importance of residents’ patronizing the businesses in Bixby Point. “Obviously, they all need the community’s support,” he says, “But that is especially true for La Vineria Italiana. He explains that about 60 percent of restaurants fail within their first year. “Although La Vineria Italiana offers fantastic food and they really know what they’re doing, we really need to have the people in the area to eat there.”
Gabelich agrees, noting that for a long time residents have wanted more dining opportunities in the area. “I’m sure La Vineria Italiana is going to provide a wonderful environment and a slightly different Italian menu,” she says. “We say that we want more restaurants and businesses here, but if we want them to stay, we have to support them.”

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Unexpected delays slow progress at Bixby Point