Work has progressed steadily on the RiverPark and Collection developments off Highway 101 ongoing for five years now, and anticipation of the residential/commercial hybrid, the first of its kind of this size in central Ventura County, has been palpable.

Representatives associated with the construction of the gargantuan 700-acre property, as well as city officials, are still maintaining that the commercial end of the project is moving ahead according to its scheduled open date, despite repeated concerns that a flailing economy and scant completion of retail storefronts on the construction site in Oxnard have indicated that work there has slowed.

According to Curtis Cannon, Oxnard’s community development director, construction of The Collection, pegged as a 600,000-square-foot lifestyle center, is 75 percent complete.

“Development, in terms of construction, is going fairly well,” assured Cannon. “From the city’s standpoint, the quicker the better. But they’re moving along as quickly as they can.”

Work is proceeding as scheduled to meet the Spring 2010 target date for the official opening of The Collection, set to include both a 50,000-square-foot Whole Foods market, REI sporting goods store and a 16-screen movie house as the anchors of the development, according to the president of the development company for The Collection.

Other higher-end merchants and eateries, like P.F. Chang’s, have been rumored to be joining the two spotlight businesses, but those rumors have not been denied or confirmed. According to a spokesperson from P.F. Chang’s corporate office in Arizona, the gourmet Chinese eatery’s only planned future locations in California are in Temecula and Carlsbad — none for Oxnard.

“The commercial, as quickly as it comes on, certain tenants draw other tenants,” says Cannon. “That’s why Whole Foods is a critical anchor, because other tenants want to be around that. It’s a regional draw.”

If what officials say is true about the project’s progress, then appearances can be deceiving; a drive through The Collection site last week indicated that some construction has been completed, evident from the basic skeletal framing of beams and girders, but still a far cry from anything near finished.

On the residential side of things, tough financial times have played a small role in development, where, according to Cannon, construction of houses has slowed a bit, down from 24 per phase, to about six or nine units at a time.

Still, about 70 percent of the homes mapped out for the site have already been constructed, amounting to 1,000 out of about 1,500 single-family dwellings. The acreage holds a capacity for up to 2,800 homes potentially, he said, including a mix of affordable housing and rental units, where 400 apartments, according to the development’s Web site, are currently being built.

David Jack moved from Washington State four months ago with his family to RiverPark. Jack said he’s seen homes sold within one to two weeks from their completion, where a house sells anywhere from $300,000 to $600,000.

“They sell fairly quickly, from what I’ve seen,” he said.

Jack has had to remain patient for the retail aspect, which he said was one of the appeals of moving there, as it was for some of his neighbors. According to the resident, he hadn’t heard of a confirmed Collection open date beyond original announcements of February 2009, then April 2009.

“I could understand if it was taking longer than normal,” he said. “I can understand the way the economy is, builders don’t want to build something that sits around for months.”

The main draw for the city is the chance for extra revenues via sales taxes and property taxes derived from both RiverPark and The Collection. Oxnard City Hall has already seen the benefits of property taxes, notes Cannon, since homes at RiverPark started going up two years ago.

No additional revenue from sales tax has been produced yet — not until The Collection is completed — but officials won’t be worried, buoyed by the passage of Measure O in November, the ballot initiative that successfully boosted Oxnard’s sales tax rate a half percent from 7.25 percent to 7.75 percent.

According to Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden, part of the city’s contract with Shea Properties, which is heading up both developments, includes some stimulus pay for the Oxnard downtown, where most efforts at revitalization have been centered on Plaza Park and its various merchants.

Holden said the city stands to receive approximately $9 million as part of the agreement. The one-time stimulus money would be paid to the city, Holden explained, upon completion of The Collection movie theater.

“How we distribute that on a time frame, we haven’t determined yet,” the mayor said. He added, “Where the concern would have been greater is if we built The Collection and didn’t consider the downtown or the growth of that.”

Repeated attempts at contacting Shea representatives were unsuccessful, and the company’s president did not respond to an e-mail with questions for this story by deadline.   

paul@vcreporter.com