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McClatchy-Tribune  08/24/2014 6:07 AM ET
The Collection in Oxnard nears its two-year anniversary [Ventura County Star, Calif. :: ]

Aug. 24--OXNARD, Calif. -- If success continues for The Collection, Oxnard's evolving shopping and dining center, it could be a model for brick and mortar retail.

October marks the second anniversary since developers declared the multifaceted center open, and it is "succeeding as originally envisioned," said James Williams, vice president of marketing and communications for the center's Aliso Viejo developer, Shea Properties. It owns the center with Los Angeles investment firm Oak Tree Capital Management L.P.

A $250 million project that had to wait out the Great Recession to launch, The Collection at RiverPark has been making up for lost time. The vast, 700-acre site off Highway 101 at North Oxnard Boulevard and Vineyard Avenue has opened 34 tenants to date that generated more than $57 million in sales in 2013, according to Oxnard's sales tax revenue data.

"This center was originally supposed to open in 2009," Williams said. "It's been a tough road, but we're making some really good progress."

The Collection strives to resemble a downtown area with streets, parks, fountains, playgrounds and artwork. Visitors attend concerts and a Christmas tree lighting, ice skate in the winter and take salsa lessons. There's also grocery, discount and apparel shopping; gyms/spas; small businesses; and housing.

The Collection officially opened in October 2012 with the debut of the Century RiverPark 16 movie theater. Pedestrian traffic there has since grown, with a recent concert that kick-started the center's free concert series bringing in an estimated 4,000 people, said Erica Boatman-Dixon, marketing director for the center's property manager, marketer and co-leasing agent, CenterCal Properties LLC of El Segundo.

Those events, particularly the tree lighting and the opening of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill restaurant, have driven much of the foot traffic, Boatman-Dixon said.

"They'll (the restaurants) end up with a wait time of an hour to an hour and a half" after popular events, Boatman-Dixon said. "It's definitely working."

She and her staff follow up with the retailers after each event to gauge its success, she said, but traffic varies based on an event's popularity, Boatman-Dixon said.

The center's anchors -- a Target Corp. store, Whole Foods Market, the movie theater and a California Welcome Center -- also have brought people in, along with any new shop or eatery openings, she said.

Those anchor stores make the center a one-stop place to shop for Nicole Kennedy, who also lives at the Mosaic apartments within RiverPark, the name for The Collection and its adjacent condos and apartments.

"I don't branch out much for shopping because it's so convenient," Kennedy said, while walking her shih tzu through the parks and along the streets on a recent Wednesday afternoon.

Kennedy says her Ventura friends often drive to The Collection for certain restaurants. They park at her complex on the weekend nights when space gets tight at the center, she said.

"It's definitely a happening place," Kennedy said.

Retailers tell Boatman-Dixon they are pulling in shoppers from the rest of Oxnard, Camarillo, Ventura and people heading to Santa Barbara.

"It certainly seems that as the plan was to make the center a lifestyle center, and attract from the region as a whole, that particularly seems to be on point," she said.

Parents watching their children play at one of the playgrounds Wednesday afternoon say they come to the center for those play areas and the nearby bathrooms, but also the cleanliness, free concerts, "up and coming" and diverse restaurants and lack of crowds that indoor malls have.

"It's quiet; not crazy, and not too crowded," said Wendy Galindo of Ventura, who regularly brings her 5-year-old daughter to play at the center. "It's more relaxing for a family."

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