Ratkovich Properties gets entitlements for a six-story, 91-unit loft apartments and ground-floor retail project near Mission Square.
BY DEBRA GRUSZECKI, THE PRESS ENTERPRISE
The Edison Building project to turn a former Long Beach City Hall space into a residential complex for artsy millennials was well underway when Cliff Ratkovich got the call from a former community development director in Fullerton.
“We need you in Riverside,” Riverside Assistant City Manager Al Zelinka said.
Ratkovich said he shrugged off the invitation at first.
“Frankly, Riverside has been the city you give the affectionate postcard wave to as you drive from Orange County on your way to Palm Springs,” Ratkovich confessed.
Were it not for Zelinka’s reputation as a community developer, the Irvine-based Ratkovich Properties president might not have hopped into his car with another principal in the firm, Rob Dodman, to take a drive to Riverside.
They took the Mission Inn Avenue exit, cruised the downtown district and did a 180-degree turn.
Months later, Ratkovich Properties bought the Imperial Hardware building from the city for $1 in a deal to put Riverside on the map for modern city dwellers. Now, Ratkovich Properties has its entitlements in hand to build Imperial Hardware Lofts, a six-story, 91-unit loft apartments and ground- floor retail project using the historic downtown structure for the transformation.
Now in the construction drawing phase, Ratkovich Properties plans to begin building the $25 million Imperial Hardware Lofts development at Main Street and University Avenue in 2016.
“What we saw blew us away,” Ratkovich said, as the urban developer clicked off buildings with notable historical and architectural flair that add to the city’s vibrancy: the Mission Inn, Riverside County Courthouse, Fox Performing Arts Center, the new Riverside Convention Center and Centennial Plaza, where the Culinary Arts Academy and Riverside Community College District offices are coming into view.
“This is an authentic, walkable downtown with history,” Dodman said.
“We looked at one another and said, ‘Wow.’ This is one of the most beautiful cities we’d seen,” Ratkovich recalled. “The only problem was no one was living downtown.”
The firm, which worked out the particulars to acquire Imperial Hardware with Riverside’s development director, Emilio Ramirez, inked the $1 deal with a promise to spend $1.3 million for restoration and other work – sell above the $495,000 appraised price – to build the Imperial Hardware Lofts, a six-story, 91-unit building with apartments and shops, at Main Street and University Avenue.
Originally two separate buildings put up in 1900 and 1920, the Imperial Hardware building is clad with a 1930s art deco facade.
Imperial Hardware Lofts will rehabilitate and integrate the building’s facade, brick and tin ceilings into its design plans. Renderings presented to the city show a building with midcentury modern lines.
“It’s a look that mixes history with modern appeal,” Ramirez said, and puts a historical property back to use at the downtown core.
Imperial Hardware Lofts plans to serve active, urban professionals, Dodman said. “Our goal is to create a permanent population downtown that will be walking to work, shopping downtown and having dinner downtown 24/7,” Ramirez said.
Drawings for the project show the first floor with about 8,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants that are chef-driven.
“We see a fresh, daily needs market,” Dodman said, and an amenity deck on the parking garage with a pool, spa, fitness center, community kitchen, fire pits, a dog walking station and place to work on bicycles.
There’s also talk of a lounge for residents and guests to watch the sunset, take in the skyline and chat over drinks. The target completion date for the project is summer 2017.
City officials are ebullient over its prospects to give the downtown region residential finesse.
On-the-street reaction to the plans so far seem to be mixed.
“My fantasy would be to see a children’s museum there,” Nadine Loza of Riverside said, as her children danced in a water attraction in the Main Street promenade.
From local artist Anthony Martin’s vantage point, layers of Imperial Hardware taken back further. “There’s a third-rate art deco skin on it now,” he said, as he drank coffee in a mall one recent afternoon. “I’d prefer to see it restored to its original 19th-century configuration.”
Martin said he is glad to see the city move toward the arts. Any emphasis away from sports bars and insanity in the streets would be welcome, he said.
“I think it’s cool,” Autumn Zamora, a Riverside City College student, said. “It sounds different. I’d like to live there.”
Ratkovich Properties, with a combined 45 years of real estate development experience, has developed residential, mixed-use and commercial projects throughout Southern California. Notable projects include The Wiltern Theatre, Pellissier Building and Chapman Plaza in Los Angeles.
Cliff Ratkovich said he also had a hand in developing Paseo Colorado in downtown Pasadena while working in partnership with his uncle, Wayne Ratkovich, of the Ratkovich Co. in Los Angeles.
The $250 million project turned an enclosed mall that choked off the life and energy of downtown Pasadena inside out and opened it up to the street. The mixed-urban village with 600,000 square feet of urban retail and street retail also was designed in a way to house 400 apartments above the retail complex.
Zelinka said the company has an excellent reputation for creating great and memorable places.
Ratkovich-inspired projects are legendary, he said, and the momentum for downtown districts that serve everyone from young millennials to empty nesters is growing.
“I see a yearning all over the country to live more simply, walk more and enjoy cultural events,” Zelinka said, so projects like these play well in urban areas like Riverside that are focused on downtown revitalization.
A number of other projects are bubbling up in Riverside, among them The Stalder Building project across from the Fox, a mixed-use residential project that includes 165 units of housing and about 20,000 square feet of retail space. The project, estimated at $40 million, is in negotiation with another developer, city officials said.
“It’s been great to see the aspirations of the downtown specific plan are unfolding,” Ramirez said.
Currently, Edison Lofts in Long Beach is creating a buzz.
Acquired for $2.1 million after closing escrow in June 2013, the 1959 Kenneth Wing-designed building is being turned into a 150-loft apartment, mixed-use complex.
The midcentury modern building, which was vacant since 2005 before it was purchased by Ratkovich Properties, will feature concrete floors and high ceilings, glass windows and a rooftop deck with a pool, community lounge, grills, cabanas and fireplaces.
Edison Lofts also has a ground-level cafe and wine bar and a link to Long Beach’s East Village Arts District. Construction is expected to be complete in three months.
Another 500 units are in the pipeline by Ratkovich Properties and other ventures in Long Beach as a result of the Edison Lofts’ adaptive reuse development.
“We can draw a lot of parallels from that to the Imperial Hardware Lofts project,” Dodman said.