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Larson Creek center flourishes

Mail Tribune/Jim Craven

Spaces fill up since opening of Albertson's

One of Medford's busiest newshopping centers is tucked away in a quiet corner of town.

Larson Creek Shopping Center, atBarnett and North Phoenix roads, has been filling up since Albertson's openedthere last spring. Of the other 44,000 square feet of space that becameavailable in stages starting last fall, only 12,000 remains vacant.

Even though business ownersreport a steady stream of customers, the center isn't as visible as those thathave sprung up on Highway 62, Jacksonville Highway and other busy roads. It'snear the foothills, in an area that was — and to an extent still is ?orchards and open fields.

But the center won't likely beon the city's fringe for long.

Someday, we will be rightin middle of a big neighborhood, says Maurice Torano of Galpin andAssociates, the Medford firm that developed the center.

Thanks to the Southeast Plan,much of Medford's growth in the coming years is expected to take place in thatarea. The plan calls for as many as 5,000 homes to be built on 1,000 acres overthe next 20 years. In advance of the plan, a number of subdivisions have beenbuilt in the area in recent years.

The center is positioned to takeadvantage of that growth, as well as the growth to come.

It's a greatproject, says Curt Burrill, a rival developer who handles Crater LakePlaza. When the development starts to go in that area, they are going tobe in a prime position.

The key, of course, wasconvincing Albertson's to build its 50,000-square-foot store there. Toranosays the store cost $9 million to $10 million — a big investment in astill-emerging neighborhood.

This market isn't goingto mature for three to five years, Torano says, noting that chainsgenerally prefer more established areas.

Having the Southeast Plan on thedrawing board clearly helped draw Albertson's. While returns might be slowerearly on, Burrill says the developer and Albertson's needed to act early.

If they didn't step inand do that property now, he says, when the Southeast Plan got goingthey might have lost the opportunity.

Albertson's purchased five ofthe center's 10.7 acres; Galpin and Associates owns the rest and spent $5million developing it.

While much of the space is fulljust a few months after construction was finished, buildings can't fill upfast enough for developers. Torano admits he'd like it to be even furtheralong.

Negotiations are underway for4,000 of the remaining 12,000 square feet, he says.

The controversial gas stationbeing built by Albertson's is expected to open in the next few weeks.Neighbors concerned about lights, vapors and added traffic delayed the stationwith objections, but it was approved by city officials anyway.

Larson Creek's tenants so farrepresent a broad variety. Three restaurants have opened — Vinny's ItalianKitchen, Asian Grill and Subway — as well as Oregon Mountain Coffee Co.Blockbuster Video, Holly's Hallmark Shop, Weldon's Cleaning Center, GreatClips, Pak-Mail and Sun Oasis tanning salon.

Business owners say the center isa good location that's getting better.

It's gotten perpetuallybusier every month and every time someone opens, says Jeremy Brand, whoopened Oregon Mountain Coffee last fall. Each new business makes people moreaware of the center and allows them to discover the other businesses there, hesays.

Vinny DiCostanzo, who owns Vinny'sItalian Kitchen with his wife Gina, says he expected the restaurant to bepopular. But customer traffic has exceeded expectations.

Ever since we opened thedoors, the place has been packed — lunch and dinner, he says.

Tucked away in a quiet commercial development off North Phoenix Road is Larson Creek Center. It is quickly filling with tenants and becoming popular with a growing number of customers ? even before the expected boom in residential development planned for the North Phoenix Road area.