It's been more than four months since Redding landed its first tenant in Stillwater Business Park, the city-owned industrial complex that officially opened nearly six years ago in the midst of the Great Recession with high hopes, despite the hard times.
Home-grown and family-owned Lassen Canyon Nursery inked the deal with the city in August, agreeing to buy nearly 17 acres for $840,000. The transaction closed last week and the nursery hopes to be operating in the business park late 2016.
Co-owner Liz Elwood-Ponce said the nursery has submitted its building-permit application.
"So we are on track for that and my manager, who is shepherding us along, thinks we will break ground in April," said Elwood-Ponce, who owns the business with her brother, Kenneth Elwood.
Stillwater proponents believe now that the complex has its first resident, the 700-acre park northeast of Redding Municipal Airport will start to fill up. They also think the improving economy - Shasta County's unemployment rate has fallen dramatically in the five-plus years the park has been opened - will help spur more interest.
"In my experience, all you need is one to go," former Stillwater broker John Troughton of Kennedy Wilson said. "You get that substantial one . . . and the rest will follow."
City officials said inquiries about the business park have increased.
"I think in 2015 we were pleased with the traffic," said Pat Keener, a city liaison to Stillwater Business Park. "We are finally getting interest. Of course, it's still somewhat slow. I think (Economic Development Corp. of Shasta County President) Mark (Lascelles) and those in the real estate market are very optimistic that 2016 will bring us more visitors to the park."
Keener pointed out that Stillwater currently has some prospects and we might "see some things happening in the next several months."
Companies that looked at Stillwater the past couple of years include an international furniture marker, a Chinese food processor, an auto parts manufacturer and a transformer manufacturer. Combined, these companies would employ nearly 1,450 people, Lascelles has said.
The park was the vision of the EDC. Former EDC President Jim Zauher for years pushed for the need of a "shovel-ready" business park that would attract large employers.
Voit Real Estate Services was hired by the city in February 2014 to market the park, replacing Troughton, who had the job since the park opened in April 2010. Seattle-based Kidder Mathews in November took over Voit's Sacramento operations, a region that includes Redding and Stillwater Business Park.
The city continues debt service on its public investment and still owes about $14 million in principal and interest. The park is scheduled to be paid off in 2037. Debt payments come out of the city's general fund.
Meanwhile, Lassen Canyon Nursery will move its raspberry and blackberry propagation laboratory to Stillwater Business Park. The laboratory is the first step of getting the berries into vegetable packs and then transferred to greenhouses, which also will be constructed at the business park.
"So that is what we want to establish first because we need that right now," Elwood-Ponce said. "We are out of space. It's a good problem to have, but we can't fill orders if we can't fill more space."
The blackberry and raspberry starters go to fruit growers in the Pacific Northwest, Elwood-Ponce said.
Lassen Canyon Nursery's shipping department and processing shed will stay at its headquarters on Salmon Creek Road in northeast Redding. Elwood-Ponce is considering moving the accounting department to Stillwater.
Elwood-Ponce expects to have 30 employees working at Stillwater Business Park, a number she doesn't expect to fluctuate.
Lassen Canyon also has berry farms in Macdoel, Shastina, McArthur, Yuba City and Manteca. Internationally, the nursery has operations in China and Mexico.