Inside the 1,500-acre Ormond Beach area within the city of Oxnard, a 235-acre site is shaping up as a potential location for millions of dollars in commercial and institutional investment.
On Oct. 21, the California State Coastal Conservancy delivered a presentation to the Oxnard City Council for an ambitious master plan development anchored by a University of California agricultural research and education center.
While the potential project has received some fanfare, it’s still only conceptual and so far there is no official commitment from the UC. On top of that, most of the property is privately owned, and piecing together the necessary land could be a difficult years-long process on its own.
However, the city of Oxnard isn’t shying away from throwing resources at the idea in hopes of stirring public and private support.
“The city is committed to moving this project forward and will dedicate the necessary staff and consultant expertise to help push it forward. We’ve been involved in the remediation of the Halaco EPA Superfund site, also located in the Ormond Beach area, as the cleanup of that site is critical to the overall Ormond vision,” said Martin Erickson, a deputy city manager for the city of Oxnard. “There’s a lot of players in the current patchwork quilt that constitutes the Ormond Beach area. I see the potential for public spirited private investors who see can see the dual vision of preserving one of the last remaining wetlands in southern California with creating a dynamic economic opportunity in South Oxnard. This is the kind of opportunity that doesn’t present itself too often, and we need to take advantage of the momentum generated from the presentation at city council.”
The proposed project, which includes a hotel and convention center, public parks and space for other commercial developments, would stretch along a bow-shaped road off Hueneme Road, ending at the entrance to the Ormond Beach Wetlands Restoration area.
The wetlands, Santa Monica mountains and the division of agricultural land at Ormond Beach all add up to the makings of premier research site, said Chris Smith, director of the UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County & Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Smith developed the idea for a research facility after several talks with the Coastal Conservancy.
“It’s an ideal location,” he said. “The current research facility is too small for large scale research projects, and with expansion of our small-medium research projects we’ll have utilized close to 100 percent of our useable acreage within the next 20 months, if not sooner.”
Given the diversity of agriculture in the county and associated issues, the region needs a robust, comprehensive facility to research and develop solutions for its $2 billion-plus agricultural industry.
The research center’s goal, in combination with the commercial aspect of the Ormond site, is to create a regional hub for agricultural and natural resources activities. Smith estimates the total cost to develop the facility would be around $40 million.
Smith hopes that the UC Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources will make the decision to pursue a research extension center project feasibility study by the early part of next year. Any decision to pursue a research project at Ormond would have to be approved by the UC Board of Regents.
If the project does get some traction and the UC jumps on board, the sale of the university’s Hansen Trust property, a 36-acre entitled home site in Saticoy, could provide enough funding to leverage further support for the research center. Bids are currently being accepted and a sale could close as early as January. When the university previously considered selling the property, it had a an asking price of $18 million.
“It’s good seed money and everyone knows in business money begets money,” Smith said. “It could give the university some stock to move forward and get others to come forward in the building of this center.”
In a ideal situation, Smith said a groundbreaking on a facility would happen by late 2016 or early 2017. The full development of the property, which would include some lab space and about 170 acres of open research land, would take roughly four to five years, he said.
For the conservancy’s part, its role was to help create a vision for a use of the property that was consistent and compatible with the major wetland restoration project on the adjoining area at Ormond Beach. Oxnard is taking the lead in discussions with UC on the project, according to Coastal Conservancy Project Manager Chris Knoll.
“While this is a conceptual project, it’s intriguing in that it contains a great vision for the Ormond Beach area and has strong community buy-in,” Oxnard’s Erickson said. “… [T]he potential synergy of a UC research center that links Oxnard’s agricultural assets, its businesses, the county, the port, the Navy, and the environmental community is very exciting.”