What to Do With Vantis' Last 10 Acres?

The Vantis live/work project hasn't been finished, but the bottom has dropped out of the office space market. Shea Properties seeks city approval for a hotel and apartment complex instead.

In a city that's 95-percent developed, one 10-acre lot sits vacant. And it may become a new hotel and apartments.

Across from the Renaissance ClubSport Hotel, a graded, sloping hillside is empty. It's the northern end of Vantis Drive, a live/work concept nearly complete, aside from the 10-acre parcel.

In 2005, Vantis planned to devote 700,000 square feet to office space and build 400 condos.

The empty, graded 10 acres had been intended for office spaces, said James Williams, who represents property owner Shea Properties.

That was the plan until the economy imploded in 2008. For a time, some office buildings in Aliso Viejo stood almost half-empty, Williams said. Meanwhile banks granted fewer loans, which forced this and many other local projects to halt construction.

Businesses rejected commercial space for different reasons, he said. For one, the best spaces became vacant as lease prices decreased overall. As a result, clients demanded more from their office spaces.

Another cause of the decline in the commercial leasing market is an overall shift in business. More employees may work from home or in satellite locations, meeting only occasionally in office spaces, said Elizabeth Cobb, vice president of commercial development for Shea.

So as the overall economy improves, commercial office space is seeing slower growth.

For that reason, Shea seeks to rezone the undeveloped 10 acres on Enterprise and Aliso Viejo Parkway. They are petitioning the city to allow a new apartment complex and hotel in the space.

Details of the proposal remain to be seen, including who the hotel owner could be and how many acres the proposed apartment complex could occupy, Cobb said.

A public hearing for Shea's proposal is expected in late November.


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