Construction work in Yuma better than expected last year

Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 1:45 am | Updated: 10:23 am, Mon Mar 7, 2016.

By Joyce Lobeck, Special to the Yuma Sun

Construction activity in the city of Yuma during 2015 was even better than anticipated, confirmed Building Safety Official Randy Crist.

And so far, 2016 is shaping up to be a good year as well if the current level of building activity continues.

By nearly every measure, building activity within the city was up in 2015 over the previous year.

City of Yuma Community Development staff members were certainly busy, conducting 22,600 building inspections – up from 20,000 in 2014.

Meanwhile, the city issued a total of 5,829 permits in 2015, compared to 4,695 in 2014. There were increases in every category across the board, including both residential and commercial projects and a significant number of solar projects, Crist reported.

“There was a nice, gentle increase throughout the spectrum,” he said.

Especially satisfying, he said, is the mercantile activity in the city, signaling an uptick in retail development that bodes well for the community’s recovering economy. Residential building activity also has been brisk.

And, of course, there’s the construction now well under way of the hospital’s long-awaited new Emergency Department as the grand finale of a flurry of building activity over the last couple of years at Yuma Regional Medical Center. The new state-of-the-art ED, scheduled for completion this fall, will double the current ED bed capacity. Two additional shelled floors will provide room for future expansion as the community continues to grow. And an underground floor provides room for a new cafeteria in the future.

Hospital projects aside, the number of commercial permits issued in 2015 was up about 10 percent, with a significant increase in permits for business offices, Crist said.

He highlighted one office project, the renovation by Hardknocks Limited of the former accountant office at 190 S. Madison Ave. in Yuma’s historic downtown area though a development agreement with the city.

“He took a dilapidated building, an historic building, and did a nice job,” Crist said of developer Scott Spencer, who has since moved his office there.

Other office projects completed in 2015 include the shelled two-story medical building at 2500 S. 8th Ave., continued building activity at Tuscany Professional Plaza off Avenue B and a variety of tenant improvement office projects scattered across the city.

What Crist is really excited about, though, is the retail building activity. He reported valuations of $10.5 million for retail projects permitted in 2015 versus $3 million the previous year. “When we see that, it shows a healthy economy.”

The retail list includes some noteworthy projects, one being Hobby Lobby, long a fixture on the Yuma Sun’s annual Christmas Wish List for desired new businesses. That new store opened just in time for the holiday season.

Other retail activity in 2015 included completion of two new retail buildings at Yuma Mesa Shopping Center that house Dunkin Donuts and Dog Haus among other businesses, opening of C.A.L. Ranch in the former Mervyn’s store, a new Discount Tire at Yuma Palms Regional Center, a new Fisher Dodge Chrysler Dealership, Sprague’s new Truckmates building, a new home for U-Haul, Yuma’s second dd’s Discounts going into the vacant Staples at 500 W. Catalina Drive, and Napa Automotive moving into the old Goodwill on 4th Avenue – previously a Safeway for those whose memories go back that far.

There also were a number of smaller projects that included additions to and renovations of existing stores such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Kay Jewelers and Liquid Eyewear and tenant improvements to Cielo Verde Retail Center as well as the new Press Sandwich Shop that went into a long vacant building at 121 E. 24th St.

This is just a sampling of commercial projects in 2015 that also included completion of the new home for Yuma Mortuary, construction of the new Desert View Academy (a $6.3 million project), and alterations to an existing cooler for Custom Ag Pak, a new salad processing plant at 2591 S. Brown Ave. off Gila Ridge Road that was completed just in time for this winter’s vegetable season.

As for residential activity, the city saw a significant upswing in building activity for new homes, Crist reported. The city issued 382 permits for single-family homes during the year, up from 305 in 2014.

“That’s encouraging,” Crist said.

Crist said the three major home builders in the city currently include Elliott Homes, with activity at Araby Crossing and the Terraces as well as some building in the county; Hall Construction, whose major projects include Park West at Avenue C and 24th Street, Sunset Mountain Townhomes and Desert Oasis and Saguaro subdivisions; and Kammann Development at Livingston Ranch and Sierra Montana.

The city also saw a huge increase in solar projects, issuing a total of 777 such permits for the year, mostly for homes. That compares to 150 permits for solar projects in 2014.

That’s a trend Crist sees continuing, with 120 permits for solar projects already issued this year in less than two months.

Likely the most popular construction project in 2015 as far as the public is concerned was the rebuilding of the Stewart Vincent Wolfe Playground at West Wetlands Park. The rebuilt playground, destroyed by an arson fire just before Christmas 2014, opened to an enthusiastic crowd on Dec. 19.

The only building measurement for the city that decreased in 2015 was for valuations – the value of a building project, not including the cost of the land. Valuations for 2015 totaled $122 million, down from $150 million in 2014.

Crist attributed the previous year’s higher valuation to the number of major “make way” projects by YRMC in 2014 as it prepared for the construction of the new Emergency Department. That impressive “make way” list included a new parking garage, new administration building, Parkview Loop ring road and several major renovation projects as well as construction of the YRMC Cancer Center.

“Those were big ticket projects,” Crist said. And it shows in the grand total for 2014. He explained that the city issued permits last year for YRMC projects with a total valuation of $55 million compared to $14 million this year, most of which is for the new Emergency Department.

While still cautious about the future, Crist believes 2016 will continue on the same path as 2015 with continued recovery of the construction industry.

The recovery of the housing market looks to continue this year, with 73 single family permits already issued by mid-February, a 70 percent increase over this time last year he said.

As for commercial projects, this year’s list includes several major projects that already have been completed or are under way. Among them were the opening in January of the Walmart Grocery Store on 8th Street and Avenue B, completion of Farley’s Market (which sells Costco brand products) in Las Palmillas Center and completion of the Amelia Earhart Hangar at Yuma International Airport.

Other just completed major projects are the new home for Amberly’s Place, an addition to Healthsouth Rehab Hospital and conversion of a former hotel at 2600 S. 4th Ave. to create Veterans Home of Yuma.

Other projects around the city now under way are a major remodel of Albertson’s Grocery Store at the Big Curve, an addition to El Buen Taquito at 810 S. 13th Ave., renovations to a Main Street property for Yuma County offices and a new building to house the Valentin Guzman insurance and real estate offices on 4th Avenue and 20th Place (where Famous Sam’s was located until it burned down several years ago). The former Knights of Columbus on 4th Avenue Extension is being converted to a new home for Legacy Church, plans have been approved for renovations to the former Logan’s for Hooter’s and permits are ready to finish the interior of the shelled second building at Mission Valley Plaza located at the corner of 24th Street and Avenue C that had sat vacant since 2008.

Meanwhile, work is well underway at Gomez Plaza that will transform 17.5 acres on the south side of 16th Street into a new commercial center. Already under construction there is a building for Native Grill and Wings and building plans have been submitted for a second tenant, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, he said.

“That’s a prime property that’s been vacant a long time,” said Crist. “It will be nice to see it getting filled.”

As is true as well for other long-vacant properties around the city.