IT'S NO SECRET TO ORANGE COUNTY, Calif., residents and businesses that the property surrounding the city-owned Anaheim Angel Stadium has been underused. And while ambitious plans have been proposed for the land—including both a “sports-town” project with indoor surfing and snowboarding facilities, and an entertainment district with dinner theater and concert venues—financing problems have prohibited any major development.
So in August, when the city council unanimously approved a mixed-use and urban land-use overlay plan for the 820-acre area dubbed the “Platinum Triangle,” the region's developers and builders let out a collective sigh and began to anticipate the opportunities for a 24-hour, vibrant community—among those opportunities was the possibility of building 9,175 new homes in a region that was desperate for housing. “The stadium provides a reason for people to come to the area; and we are hoping to provide lots of reasons to make them want to stay,” says Sherri Vander Dussen, Anaheim's planning director.
Across the country, baseball stadiums have become the trendiest of anchors for urban mixed-use developments.
SUCCESS IN THE CITY IN THE LATE 1990S, NO ONE HAD MORE CONFIDENCE IN the development possibilities for downtown San Diego than Rich Gustafson. As director of acquisitions and development for Shea Homes' San Diego division, Gustafson said he felt the pressures created by the region's shortage of land. And while his company's focus remained on single-family suburban communities, Gustafson found himself at a personal crossroads. “I could see that we were building ourselves out of a job,” he recalls. “It was the right time to take a leap of faith and trust my instincts.”
As a product and community development manager for Shea, Russ Haley reported to Gustafson and shared his vision for future development in the heart of San Diego. But the unproven environment and unique business model were risks Shea was unwilling to shoulder. So when Gustafson parted ways with the company in pursuit of an urban ideal, Haley followed.
Armed with the right combination of knowledge, experience, and guts, Gustafson and Haley needed only an infusion of capital to put their plans in motion. And in true California style, Haley came up with a convincing business plan crafted on the cocktail napkins of a New York City bar. While visiting the Big Apple, he met with UCLA college roommate Vince Hoenigman, an entrepreneur with a background in high-technology and a master's degree in urban planning. Capitalizing on the height of the telecom boom, Hoenigman had just recently sold his own high-tech consulting company in a merger to Proxi-Com. Convinced in the viability of Gustafson and Haley's vision—and flush with cash—Hoenigman agreed to join the start-up. On Jan. 1, 2000, CityMark Development was born.
Short on red tape and long on trust, the company secured its first land holdings before principals Gustafson and Hoenigman had even met in person. Relying on their single-family roots, the firm's first project in the geographically penned-in area of Cortez Hill included 16 stick-built townhomes, each of which offered a small backyard or private rooftop deck. With increasing confidence and growing aspirations, they began searching for investors for a 121-unit loft/flat/townhouse project called “doma,” located in Little Italy. It was the country's 9/11 crisis, and the resulting investor climate, that forced CityMark to create a stronger business model. “We were an unproven entity, and it was a bad time in the world,” recalls Gustafson. “We talked to over 90 investors.”
That experience inspired CityMark's principals to take a hard look at themselves through an investor's eyes and then take action. “We created a ‘team' that had the credibility to do these projects even if ‘we', as the principals, went away,” says Haley. By aligning itself with the reputable high-density construction specialist at Swinerton Builders, the seasoned sales team from Ryness, and nationally recognized architects at Martinez+Cutri, the principals at City-Mark packaged a formidable team. “That really helped investors have the comfort they needed,” he says.
So much so, in fact, that City-Mark now has several projects under construction. Perhaps one of CityMark's most novel projects is “The Egyptian,” a historic movie theater inspired by streamlined Art Moderne architecture. Preserving the facade of the original theater, the company is currently constructing 80 residences that pay tribute to the area's history and blend with the Egyptian influences that are incorporated into surrounding buildings.
Upon opening each phase of the project, units are always sold within days. And most carry substantial waiting lists. “Usually everyone who works on a CityMark project buys one,” remarks an associate in the company's sales center. “And I mean, even the construction staff and soil testers. These guys are working on projects all over town. That tells you how good it is.”