Airplanes sit on the tarmac at the Rialto Municipal Airport on Friday. Development plans for the site, which includes 1,500 acres of mixed-use development along the 210 Freeway, have been delayed in part because of the housing market and the economy. (Gabriel Luis Acosta/Staff Photographer)
RIALTO - Plans to turn Rialto Municipal Airport and the surrounding area into 1,500 acres of mixed-use development along the 210 Freeway are a little behind schedule, but construction could start sometime next year.

Only a few months ago, it looked as if the City Council would take up a land-use plan for the project later this year and that the airport could be closed this year as well.

But it looks as if the council won't get the proposal until next year, and it's not clear when the airport will close. Officials are even talking about breaking the project into two parts so the commercial zone along the 210 can get going as quickly as possible, said Robb Steel, the city's economic development director.

"I think they're probably re-evaluating some of the things that they had planned with the economy changing," Councilwoman Winnie Hanson said of the developers. She doesn't mind the developers taking their time, she said, if it helps get the project right.

The slowing housing market is a factor in the delay. Steel said the developers, a partnership between the Lewis Group of Companies and Texas-based Hillwood, are considering cutting the amount of housing to be included in the project - and that's


why the council will be getting a plan later.

Some city officials also weren't thrilled after a May workshop that discussed the retail options considered for the project.

Until there's a workable plan for the project that the council is happy with, nothing can move forward, Steel said. The developers aren't going to want to pay an estimated $40 million required to relocate the tenants from the airport unless the project is moving forward, Steel said.

Two or three of the airport's 250 tenants have already left, but most probably won't start leaving until the spring, said airport Director Rich Scanlan. The entire process could take nine or 10 months, he said.

The retail zone can be built as long as the north-south runway is closed, meaning the east-west runway could remain open for a while if the project is split in two, Steel said.

The project's environmental impact report is also taking longer than hoped. At the City Council meeting on July 17, the council approved tweaking the EIR.

At the May workshop, consultants and representatives from the development team told council members and residents a Target store will anchor the retail center. It also will likely include an office-supplies store, an electronics store, like Best Buy, and some other large stores.

At the outset, the project won't be able to attract high-end restaurants or shopping, the presenters said. Until the area grows, and wealthier residents move in, the restaurants would probably include places like Applebee's and Red Robin.

Councilman Joe Baca Jr. said he would give the presentation a "C-" at best and that Lewis is going back to the drawing board. He said he's interested in creating a lake in the project and wants there to be community-oriented venues like a movie theater even if they don't generate a ton of sales-tax revenue.

Aside from thinking about reducing the number of homes, Lewis is making small changes to the project, Steel said.

"There is some retooling, but it's not radically different as far as the retail side goes," he said. He agreed the presentation about the types of tenants the area could attract did worry some of the council members, but he said he thought the presentation was also optimistic because the presenters pointed out that as the area grows, it will be able to attract higher-end tenants.

Those could include The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang's, California Pizza Kitchen or Claim Jumper, according to a report by Greg Stoffel, a retail consultant on the project.

Some of the properties near the main retail area could host entertainment venues like a movie theater, Steel said.

Hanson said developing the area will take time.

"I do know that luring a higher quality store is not easy, but I think they will come."

Contact writer Jason Pesick at (909) 386-3861 or via e-mail at