Northbay Business Journal: June 21th, 2010

DRIVEN RACEWAY PREPARES SECOND VENUE IN FAIRFIELD

By Jeff Quackenbush

Rohnert Park front

Driven Raceway in Rohnert Park

Locating in former Circuit City; target opening in October, 2010

Less than a year after two former Telecom Valley executives turned a vacant “big box” store in Rohnert Park into an entertainment center focused on indoor European electric kart racing, they are planning to do it again in Solano County this fall.

Matt Stearn and Rod Towery, founders of Driven Raceway LLC, secured use permits in early June from the city of Fairfield to convert the 33,000-square-foot former Circuit City store at 1560 Gateway Blvd. fronting on Interstate 80 in Fairfield into a venue with go kart racing, video arcade, miniature bowling and black-light golf.

Working with Cassidy Turley BT Commercial agent Rich Fenske, the two have been scouting distressed real estate throughout Northern California for the right mix of demographics. “Currently, we draw from well beyond 30 miles away,” said Mr. Stearn. “Why Fairfield is a good step for us is that it touches on the edge of where it is not a palatable drive” from Napa or Solano.

Driven Raceway opened in a nearly 41,000-square-foot vacant Linens ‘n’ Things store in a Wal-Mart-anchored shopping center in Rohnert Park last fall. Being in a retail area has been good for the company. “The reason we were looking in Fairfield is that it has impacted us significantly to be in a retail location rather than in a light-industrial area,” Mr. Towery said.

The freestanding Fairfield building is located between the Gateway Courtyard and Gateway Plaza neighborhood shopping centers and across the street from the million-square-foot Westfield Solano mall. “Fairfield is a very family-oriented community,” said Lorraine Fernandez, a city economic development specialist. “It is going to bring new consumers that come in off the freeway and may not have done so before.”

Driven Raceway’s target demographic are families and companies that want fun or team-building events. Straddling the Sacramento and Bay Area metropolitan areas, Solano County has been attracting companies that are consolidating regional facilities. As for competition, there’s an existing Scandia Fun Center, which has gasoline-powered outdoor karts, on the north end of Fairfield. The nearest indoor karting venues are in Fremont, Burlingame and the Sacramento area and use gasoline-powered karts.

The Circuit City store in Fairfield closed in January 2009 as part of a shutdown of the electronics chain. Shuttered locations are being snapped up by other retailers, such as Mi Pueblo Foods in San Rafael and Sprouts Farmers Market’s first Northern California store in Sunnyvale. Since the Fairfield store closed, the city has worked with the previous property owner and the current ones to find new tenants, according to Ms. Fernandez.

Lafayette-based real estate broker Raj Chabra and economist Vimal Kumar purchased the vacant Fairfield property in August of last year for $84 a square foot. They brought the Driven Raceway concept to the city in late 2009 to find out what documentation would be required to expedite processing of permits, according to Ms. Fernandez. Such preparation allowed the city to approve the use permit administratively, she said. Driven Raceway in May filed for building permits to renovate the Fairfield facility and is anticipating having them in hand in July. The target opening is sometime in October or three months after building permits are issued. The Fairfield venue would employ 35, bringing the total staff to 70. Redwood Credit Union also is supplying SBA financing for this venture. However, future expansion likely will require a larger amount of capital than Driven Raceway currently can raise through SBA 7(a) financing, according to Mr. Stearn.

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