By Kelley Atherton
The impact of the national economic crisis can be seen in Crescent City's newest business development.
Getting tenants into the new Pacific Coast Plaza has been slow going. However, owner and developer Matt Fearing said he is in talks with several local businesses to fill up the deluxe strip mall-like suites on U.S. Highway 101 between 4th and 5th streets.
Despite its remote location, Crescent City's business community is not immune to anxiety about the credit crisis and the national election.
It seems that local businesses are waiting for something to happen, Fearing said, and in the meantime are buttoning up their pocketbooks. And with the local area's demographics, outside chains don't seem very interested in expanding here right now.
"It's a tight time," Fearing said about the economy.
Restaurants, real estate agents, and a cell phone company have all expressed interest in moving into PCP, but have yet to sign leases.
"I've shown it so many times," Fearing said. "I get the feeling that people are waiting to see what happens."
He said that a local business should be moving into the middle suite facing the highway in early December, but declined to say what it is.
Decorative awnings are the last bit of exterior work that still needs to be done. The suites are being left bare inside so tenants can design them to their tastes.
"I just wanted something nice," Fearing said. "Something that people see and say, Wow, they put some effort into this.'"
Fearing received a $200,000 redevelopment loan from the city in June to finish up the project. City Councilman Richard Enea said that PCP is a "shining" example of what the city should be spending its money on.
"That's what those funds are for," he said about turning blighted properties into working businesses.
Enea acknowledged that the economy is probably what's causing some businesses to put on the brakes, but he noted PCP is brand new and in a prime location.
"It's gong to come back, it's America," he said about businesses taking chances in an unstable economy. "I'm hopeful businesses will go in there."
Retail clothing stores are what Enea envisions going into the development, along with services for people walking around downtown.
Fearing said he talked with a few smaller chains, such as Black Bear Diner, about the development, but Crescent City doesn't have the desired demographics.
So the focus has been on local businesses.
Another roadblock has been that some businesses want to break up the suites. That would take a large investment from Fearing and his partner Dan Harrison, another local resident, and it would take years for them to recoup that cost.
There has been some movement in the last few months, both good and bad: the California Tribal TANF Partnership occupies a suite on the backside along K Street, but after moving in a month earlier, the local First American Title branch closed last week.
Fearing's already received some calls about that space, but First American still has the lease open and hasn't notified him that the company is moving out.
"It's a bummer for me because I would have liked to have them stay," he said about the chain title company. "No one saw it coming."
The lack of signed leases for PCP isn't slowing Fearing down.
He already has plans to renovate the blue metal building across from Patriot Gas Station on Highway 101 North, where there will be three spaces available.
There are people itching to start a business or expand their venture and they are going to need the space, he said.
"The economy is still moving," Fearing said, "people are trying to put things together."
After living in Crescent City for 30 years, Fearing said he's noticed a pattern in comparing the local economy to what's happening nationwide.
"It never has been as good as everywhere else, and never as bad as everywhere else," he said.
Large corporate chains such as Wal-Mart are investing money in Del Norte County that must mean something, he said.
"People are sniffing around," he said, so they must see potential in Del Norte.
While he waits for tenants to sign on the dotted line, Fearing has no regrets about renovating the dilapidated Square Deal hardware store. Fearing and Harrison bought the property just over a year go
"I'd like to fill it, but we're doing OK," he said.
Fearing said they both knew going in that it would take awhile to get into the black, noting how unpredictable the economy can be.
Another one of Fearing's projects, Front Street Plaza, started off the same way as PCP and was full until Cherie's Boutique moved to 3rd Street this summer.
"We finished it with no tenants then here comes one, here comes another," Fearing said. "The economy is not helping, but we're not hurting too bad."