The Crossing at Sahuarita shopping plaza is filling up quickly with new businesses as the boom along Nogales Highway/Duval Mine Road remains strong, and the town predicts more growth and opportunity around the corner.

Victor Gonzalez, Sahuarita's economic development director, said The Crossing, at the southeastern corner of Nogales Highway and Abrego Drive, could be at capacity in two to three years as potential tenants see shops doing well and move in. While The Crossing may be approaching capacity, the town has no worries that Sahuarita lacks the ability to attract and place new businesses, he said. 

Among the most recent high-profile additions are Starbucks, which opened earlier this year, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, under construction next door. Across the street, Culver's and Dutch Bros. Coffee opened at Sahuarita Plaza, and Jersey Mike's subs opened just east in Madera Marketplace. All of these businesses, and many other new arrivals, have been concentrated in southern Sahuarita, but new developments may be moving north with construction under way on Sahuarita Medical Center at Sahuarita Road and Interstate 19. 

Rancho Sahuarita

Jeremy Sharpe, Rancho Sahuarita's chief operating officer, said there is a lot of interest for space in Rancho Sahuarita and they are in discussions to meet those demands.

"The Rancho Sahuarita Marketplace and Village (site of Fry's) continues to be 100 percent leased with two new tenants joining the center," Sharpe said. "Kababeque, an Indian restaurant, will be opening in the coming months, and a specialty medical office will open this fall."

There is land available for expansion as demand dictates, he said.

"We have recently developed The Corner, a six-pad center on the northeast corner of Sahuarita Road and Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard," Sharpe said. "We are in escrow with a quick-serve restaurant. We expect the deal to close by the end of the year once it receives all approvals from the Town of Sahuarita."

The restaurant will join Panda Express and Fry's gas station, which opened in the last 18 months.

The hospital, which is expected to open in 2020, will bring a new phase of development with a variety of businesses in the northern part of town, Gonzalez said. 

 "I think we'll probably see more people, users, developers, kind of kicking the tire, if you will, looking at the area, looking at the properties in and around the hospital and understanding the dynamics of that particular area – land pricing, traffic patterns, number of households, population base – to justify potential development," Gonzalez said.

He said the hospital will change the landscape along Sahuarita Road in terms of amenities – restaurants, offices to support the hospital and maybe a hotel – which will follow its completion. 

"When you look at hospitals, within a proximity you see hotels," Gonzalez said. "You go to the (Tucson Medical Center) area and you see a clustering of hotels there. So we may see that because of the nature of a hospital – overnight stays and families visiting."

It's not just the hospital which will fuel more growth in the north. The plans for the Sahuarita Town Center will also be pushing more development into the northern part of town.

"The Sahuarita Town Center, located on both sides of I-19 and Sahuarita Road, has always been envisioned as a place of commerce, education, worship, municipal services, medical care, recreation, dining and retail," Sharpe said. "Since the early 2000s, we have been systematically building on the vision with the post office, Sahuarita Municipal Complex, offices, two schools, restaurants and retail."

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church-Sahuarita, at La Villita and Sahuarita Road, is another component to such developments, Sharpe said. The church is  constructing a 26,500-square-foot learning center and 4,500-square-foot chapel on five acres on the southwestern corner and expects to open in January.

The town also expects the Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center, SAMTEC, to begin construction as early as September or October and be completed in six to eight months. SAMTEC doesn't have any tenants signed yet, but the town has contracted with national commercial real estate firm CBRE to find manufacturing companies to fill the vacancies.  

While Rancho Sahuarita may have more development in its future, it isn't the only area for expansion. However, when it comes to acquiring land for development in Sahuarita there are unique conditions that can be both a positive and negative.

Land ownership

Sahuarita differs from other towns and cities, such as Tucson, where there may be large or small tracts of land available through various owners, allowing for more options for potential businesses looking to expand into an area. In Sahuarita, large tracts of land are owned by a few parties or belong to different state and federal agencies, such as the State Land Department, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Sahuarita is bordered by large entities. The north of town is bordered by the Tohono O'odham Nation. Much of the land to the west is owned by Freeport-McMoRan mining company. To the south is unincorporated Green Valley. To the east is unincorporated Pima County.

There are also two large private owners who have major tracts of land in Sahuarita. The Farmers Investment Co., FICO, in eastern Sahuarita, which is mainly pecan fields, and Rancho Sahuarita in the northern part of town, which is developing residential and commercial projects. 

Because a range of owners can be found within a closer proximity in areas such as Tucson, there is more opportunity for developers to negotiate, Gonzalez said.

"That's not the case here," he said. "The northern half of Sahuarita you're dealing with, primarily, Rancho Sahuarita, and if you want to build anything or buy land along the pecan groves you're dealing with FICO. Outside of those two, there's small pockets of lots."

Having large landowners comes with pros and cons, Gonzalez said.

"The good side of that is that you have uniformity. So what Rancho and how Rancho has developed over time has created this uniformity. So it's development looks very similar, it's attractive, it's aesthetically pleasing and so it just enhances the aesthetics of the community because Rancho has a certain design guideline of how they want things to look within their properties," he said. "And that's good; but from a consumer side if you're wanting to buy land you're limited to really two or three owners in the area."

In addition to the private owners, large areas in and around Sahuarita are State Trust land, controlled by the state. A large tract of State Trust land is behind the Crossing on Abrego Drive. While developers would need to go to the state to get control of the land it could still be attractive to those who want to set up in the southern part of the town.

However the decision whether to move into the north or south is ultimately up to the developers, Gonzalez said.

"They'll base their decisions on the availability of land, the cost of land. That all factors into the cost of developing the project and their returns," he said. "And where you have household and traffic patterns, traffic numbers, population base. So we see more activity on the southern end because, naturally, there's more of a clustering of people down there. And there's already central commercial centers that are attracting people."

Once The Crossing is built out, there will be little in the way of immediate land available for more development in the south, but the State Trust land could be a potential new source for future developers if they can gain access through the state's auctioning system, Gonzalez said.

Although The Crossing will eventually reach capacity, it isn't the end of development in the south. There are smaller pockets of private land available near the I-19 and Duval Mine Road interchange.

Future development

FICO owns about one-third of the land in Sahuarita. Tim Campbell, a spokesman for FICO, said there are no near-term plans to begin any large-scale developments.

However, FICO does have a long-term community development plan, Sahuarita Farms. It would make up east Sahuarita from Pima Mine Road to just south of Nogales Highway. There would also be a second pocket west of La Posada off Continental Road.

Any development plan is long-term; it would take 40 to 50 years and would unfold slowly once it gets underway to balance the needs between real estate development with FICO's agricultural operations, Campbell said. Until then, FICO remains focused on Green Valley Pecan and continuing its agricultural operations, Campbell said.

While FICO isn't planning on developing Sahuarita Farms in the near future, there are plenty of options. But attracting new businesses and developing new communities takes time.

"Some of the things that I've seen kind of projected out just for Rancho, for commercial development, is roughly about, on the conservative side, probably 800,000-square-feet of commercial retail," Gonzalez said. "That's a lot. I mean, you're talking The Crossing times six or seven. So that's going to take several years for that to happen. But in terms of commercial or retail development, we're not constrained. We have room to grow."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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