February 15, 2006 - Oracle Crossings, a 30-acre shopping center its developer said was made possible by a sales tax incentive agreement with Oro Valley, has begun a series of store openings that will continue through the coming weeks.

Four years in the making, Oracle Crossings made its grand opening Jan. 30 with Sprouts Farmers Market, a Scottsdale-based organic grocery store. The shopping center is located in Oro Valley on the west side of Oracle Road one half mile between Ina and Magee roads.

Brake Max opened at Oracle Crossings on Feb. 4. Cheng's Beijing Restaurant and Peter Piper Pizza are expected to open sometime in late March or early April, said Paul Schloss, a partner with Oracle Crossings developer Bourne Partners. Opening at Oracle Crossings sometime in April are Scottrade, It's a Grind Coffee House, Sparkle Cleaners, Massage Envy, Pacific Pools and Spas, Frame to Perfection, Carrabba's Italian Grill and a National Bank of Arizona branch. Other stores expected to open in October include Kohl's, Shoe Pavilion, Razmataz Distinctive Home Furnishings and Sonoran Patio.

Schloss said that the previously unincorporated site first had to secure annexation into Oro Valley before construction could begin. Bourne had decided that solving problems that arise during construction would be easier if they had to deal with Oro Valley rather than Pima County.

"Today is the completion of four years of efforts," said Schloss on the day of Sprouts' grand opening. "Four years ago we went to work on getting annexed. We were the first commercial annexation in Oro Valley."

Oro Valley made an economic development agreement with Bourne Partners worth up to $6.5 million in sales tax revenue collected over 10 years. Oro Valley approved the incentives as part of its plan to increase its sales tax revenue by expanding its retail sector. With growth in Oro Valley reaching its diminishing point, the town has used such incentives to bring in shopping centers with the hope that the town's finances will be sustained after income from building fees eventually dries up.

Schloss said Bourne spent between $3.5 and $4 million making improvements to the site that included widening Oracle Road, adding a deceleration lane, putting up a traffic signal and improving the drainage system to prevent flooding.

Schloss added: "Suffolk Hills has been fighting for years to get a traffic signal here."

Schloss said the incentive deal offered by Oro Valley was an essential component in building Oracle Crossings.

"It allowed us to build this project. It could not be done without it. Public/private partnerships do work," Schloss said.

Oro Valley Town Manager Chuck Sweet said Oracle Crossings will help diversify the town's revenue stream.

"For many years, Oro Valley had a robust story of housing development," Sweet said. "Stores like Sprouts have changed the tax base for Oro Valley."

Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis was particularly pleased with the haste made by Bourne to open its first store at Oracle Crossings.

"We've witnessed the amazing speed (with which) this project has come out of the ground. It does set a standard," Loomis said.

The new Sprouts in Oro Valley will be the organic food chain's 15th location and the first in Southern Arizona, joining locations in Phoenix, California and Texas.

Sprouts offers an open farmers market-style layout and specializes in fresh farm produce, all natural meats and seafood, vitamins and supplements, and a variety of organic grocery items.

"We are the Wal-Mart of natural food," said Kevin Easler, vice president of sales and marketing for Sprouts. "We are not a high-end gourmet retailer, and we're not a grocery store - we are some-

where in between."

Although Sprouts aims to serve many of the same customers as those who shop at competitors such as Wild Oats and Trader Joe's, Sprouts also seeks to attract a broader base of customers by offering lower prices, Easler said.

"Wild Oats and Whole Foods are great stores, but who can afford to shop there?" Easler said.

He added that Oro Valley's rapidly growing, upscale community offered a perfect opportunity to break into the Tucson region.

"We've been looking for a location in Oro Valley," Easler said. "It's nice to get in on new construction. This area has been underserved."

Shopping at the store on the morning of its debut, some residents welcomed the new grocery store with open arms.

"It's very nice and the prices are reasonable. This sort of farmers market reminds me of Pennsylvania Dutch Country," said Pete Bistany, an Oro Valley resident.

The Sprouts grand opening gave other shoppers more of a lukewarm feeling.

"It's nice that it's very open, but the prices are average," said Lorie Maness, a Marana resident.

Greg Holt is a Staff Writer covering Oro Valley and the Amphitheater School District. You can reach him at 797-4384, ext. 116, or by email at gholt@explorernews.com.

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