Off-ramp to regional shopping center gets VTA nod

Santa Clara County has approved funding for a key highway
interchange in east Gilroy, clearing the way for once-nervous city
officials to formally seal the deal on a major regional shopping
center.
GILROY – Santa Clara County has approved funding for a key highway interchange in east Gilroy, clearing the way for once-nervous city officials to formally seal the deal this week on a major regional shopping center whose immediate future hinged on the transportation project.

County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve nearly $3.1 million in funding for a new interchange project at U.S. 101 and state Highway 152, a move that paved the way for the Gilroy City Council to follow with an official vote to grant formal legal planning approvals for the Regency Centers’ Gilroy Crossing shopping center Wednesday morning.

“It’s a relief,” Mayor Tom Springer said. “It’s been a long process, and there were a lot of issues to be worked out.”

Doubt had been cast on the availability of funding for the Valley Transportation Authority interchange project earlier this fall after county supervisors put the interchange money on hold, along with millions of dollars in other transportation projects funded by the 1996 voter-approved county Measure B half-cent sales tax program.

Under a new priority system adopted in that vote, decisions on whether to approve construction funding for the interchange – along with some other widening work on 152 and millions of dollars in other projects not yet in construction – were put on a list that county analysts said could receive only partial funding, due to declining sales tax revenues from the slowing economy.

But that move hit home locally when Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, threatened to deny key permits needed for the Regency project unless the VTA ramp improvements were funded.

Caltrans tentatively lifted that condition last month when new revenue information – including news that bids for a major North County interchange project came in nearly $8 million under estimates – helped District 1 County Supervisor Don Gage secure commitments the county would be able to fund the interchange.

That allowed Gilroy’s City Council to conceptually approve several site and building designs needed for the 75-acre, 456,000-square foot Regency development in early December. But city officials were forced to wait a month to formally adopt them – and brave fears anything could go wrong – until Wednesday’s special meeting, after the VTA funding was official and actually locked into place.

City officials said the votes allow Regency to move forward to secure building permits for actual site work at the center and also work to complete lease agreements. Potential tenants include major retailers such as department-type stores Target and Kohl’s, a Barnes and Noble bookstore and specialty retailer Bed and Bath and Beyond.

Construction could begin next spring, with a phased opening starting potentially in the fall.

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