Tracy wants to be known as a friendly place to do business.
Not only does the city aspire to a business-friendly reputation, but Andrew Malik, director of development services for Tracy, considers this community the envy of others.
“There are some cities that are very, very on the regulatory: ‘This is only where we’re going to see certain types of uses,’” Malik said. “You restrict to get what you ultimately want to get long term. That’s not Tracy.”
The city works as a facilitator, he explained, putting business owners together with property owners and quickly processing their paperwork.
Incentives as exceptions
Of course, there are exceptions to that approach.
The City Council convened a special session June 15, 2010, to approve giving $2.75 million to Macy’s to entice the department store to move into West Valley Mall.
Macy’s ultimately moved into the anchor space left by Gottschalks, which had closed its doors June 28, 2009, after 13 years at the mall.
“And the anchor was vacant for quite some time,” Malik said. “It was having a significant impact tenanting the rest of the mall.”
Malik said there has been a return on that investment.
“Part of that payback was through the increase of sales tax at the mall over a base,” he said. “They’ve been making that.”
The pursuit of single companies didn’t end with Macy’s.
During the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, City Manager Leon Churchill announced that an Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center between Chrisman Road and MacArthur Drive south of Grant Line Road opened this week.
If Amazon generates at least $100 million annual gross sales and a minimum of 1,000 jobs and pays the city’s 1 percent sales tax rate, the company could qualify for city incentive programs, including refunds of at least half the sales tax dollars it pays to the city.
Malik said a fast, streamlined approval process with short plan review deadlines and around-the-clock inspection service was also important to bringing Amazon to Tracy.
“That’s where we went from being business friendly to being kind of a benchmark of what a city could be,” Malik said
Consequences for community
When asked if the city needs to balance quality of life in Tracy with its business friendly attitude, Malik said the community has been very clear about what it wants.
“Most of what we’ve heard is: We want the retail,” Malik said, “Also the jobs. The jobs have always been a huge component. Not just jobs but head-of-household, highly skilled, those types of things to meet really the skill set of the community.”
The director of development services added that being pro-business is not always saying yes to projects.
“In fact, pro-business means being up front with the community and the development community about what your goals are. What your standards are. Tracy has very, very strict design standards,” Malik said. “That’s the thing about business-friendly. Helping development, investors get through the process.”
The results, he said, reach beyond shopping centers and industrial parks.
“Investment can bring things like an aquatic center. It can help with animal shelter. It can bring parks and bike trails and ball fields and those types of things,” Malik said. “But it’s doing it in the right way. And in the right location.”
Some sections of town still need help. McKinley Village Shopping Center, 2150 N. Tracy Blvd., advertises on signs and online more than 21,000 square feet of retail space open for rent.
Malik suggested that converting part of the shopping center to apartments or housing for seniors could be a way to not only fill empty storefronts but fill a community need.
He did admit it can be tough to convey to the community that work is going on behind the scenes.
“This city, through business-friendly facilitating, incentives, carrots, we try to send as much as we can to brokers and to try to fill in some of these spots,” Malik said. “There’s so much the city can do, but if a property owner has a different agenda or competing or otherwise — the best case is to be on the same page.”
Malik said a business might still be paying on a long-term lease even after leaving a shopping center, which gives the property owner little incentive to fill an empty storefront until they find the “right tenant.”
Malik emphasized repeatedly that the city is only a facilitator for business.
“The city isn’t Big Brother coming in and dictating,” he said. “We try to influence as best we can. Sometimes we have property owners that are fantastic.”
The city sees the Tracy City Center Association as an example of creating change in the city’s economic future the right way.
“The downtown is on a very successful path,” he said. “Largely because they have created the TCCA, which is a property owner-based assessment, but it has gotten property owners, the city, merchants, and you are seeing what can happen when they all are on the same page.”
That attitude, Malik believes, will create a better community.
“What’s the next 30 years of growth look like? We had 18,000 residential units that were being entitled, just as Cordes Ranch is, for development starting just about this time. So we have Ellis. We have Tracy Hills. We have Kagehiro,” Malik said.
“We’re a triangle. So we have this great freeway access. Freeway accessibility is where a lot of growth tends to want to go, so we leverage that as well. So there’s a number of real positive things about living here.”
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tracy Press toured Tracy’s business districts with the city director of development services, Andrew Malik, on Sept. 4. That interview is the basis for a continuing series on the business climate in the city.