Outside the grandest building in one of Oxnard's grandest new business complexes, 461 parking spaces lie in the afternoon sun. Four hundred and sixty are empty. And in the 111,478 square feet of office space above, there are no tenants.
Judged by such numbers, Ventura County may be the empty-office capital of California. The Oxnard building, once hailed as a new Chevron regional headquarters, is only one stop on a formidable tour of empty halls, quiet courtyards and echoing atriums. But before we start the tour, a few words from our realtors.
"The market stinks," one agent in the Westlake area said recently, requesting anonymity. "Nobody has any money right now. Lenders aren't lending money, so businesses aren't growing."
Some agents are more optimistic. Now that new commercial office construction has slowed to a standstill, many say, demand has a chance to catch up with supply.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 10, 1991 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 1 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Resolution Trust--The Ventura County Life section on Thursday carried an incorrect headline above a list of four buildings with vacant office space. None of the buildings listed on Page J-10 have been seized by the federal Resolution Trust Corp., as implied by the headline.
At the Siracusa Co., a Westlake Village marketing research firm that tracks vacancy rates in new buildings of all sizes, Vice President Carolyn Siracusa notes that the county's inventory of never-occupied office space fell slightly between January and April.
At Grubb & Ellis, commercial real estate agent Bill Kiefer asserts that it's unfair to compare Ventura County figures with vacancy rates in larger, more stable markets, because "they're not apples and apples."
Still, there are all those empty spaces.
Nationwide, analysts estimate that a decade of busy building has pushed office vacancy rates from 5% in 1980 to 20% in 1990. That's twice what many experts consider a healthy rate. And Ventura County's figures are substantially higher.
Dirk Kittredge, research director at the Oxnard offices of Grubb & Ellis Commercial Brokerage Services, calculates that 27% of Ventura County's completed office space, new and existing, was vacant when 1991 began. That's 1.69 million square feet--or, at average rental rates, $2.6 million a month that this county's commercial landlords weren't collecting. And that excludes buildings with less than 10,000 square feet, which several agents said are struggling just as much as their bigger brethren.
Another dispiriting detail: Between December and April, Kittredge estimates, the vacancy rate rose two more percentage points, from 27% to 29%.
Timothy E. Grant, a senior associate at the Ventura office of CB Commercial (formerly Coldwell Banker), compiled similar end-of-1990 statistics for the western half of the county. Like Kittredge, he left out government buildings, medical buildings, owner-occupied projects and projects under 10,000 square feet. And like Kittridge, he came up with a 27% vacancy rate.
That was the highest rate here since Coldwell Banker started keeping track four years ago.
It was also the highest rate in the eight California metropolitan areas that CB surveyed, putting west Ventura County substantially ahead of such contenders as Fresno (18.2%), Los Angeles (17.9%), Orange County (20.7%), Sacramento (13.3%), San Diego (19.5%), San Francisco (13.9%) and San Jose (12.1%). Among 55 metropolitan areas nationwide, only Stamford, Conn., (29.3%) and Palm Beach County, Fla., (29%) showed higher numbers.
The contributing factors are clear enough. The Ventura County oil industry contracted. The defense-contracting industry did the same. And the overall economy, here and elsewhere, took a dive that left developers and their lenders holding the bag and the buildings.
"A lot of people look at their projects with rose-colored glasses," said Vick Yates, co-owner of Troop Real Estate in Simi Valley. "And unfortunately a lot of people don't plan for downturn situations."
Now the tour.
If all the idle square footage in this county's office buildings were laid out on a four-foot-wide bike path, you could pedal from Ventura to Palmdale. The following guide to vacant Ventura County, selective and unscientific, begins and ends closer to home.
THE RESOLUTION TRUST TOUR OF VENTURA COUNTY
The Moon/Walker Building
5700 Moon Drive, Ventura
It's white and airy. It's triangular, with a pair of Art Deco wings flanking the second story. And since the builders finished last September, this 5,800-square-foot building just east of the Ventura Freeway has been empty.
"It's been a dry spell, trying to find tenants," conceded John Davis, who is handling the property through his firm, Commercial West Investment Brokers. "We've had bottom-fishermen out there."
The owner of the building is a Canadian investor named Louis Kuel, Davis said. Its design stands out, Davis said, in part because Ventura city officials "were quite interested in seeing a departure from the normal Spanish-style building. The Art Deco theme seemed to go over very well."