Commercial properties along a prime stretch of the Ventura (101) Freeway have been snatched up over the past year at a clip faster than in more than a decade, local real estate experts reported.

Jack Dwyer, executive vice president of Capital Commercial Real Estate, estimates that at least 10 parcels of land with a combined size of 40 to 50 acres have been sold in the past 12 months, with an average sales price of at least $1 million a parcel.

The properties are being bought for both development and for speculative investment, said Dwyer. “At the beginning of the 12-month period, the land was being purchased by developers and by users planning to develop their own facilities. During the second portion, there has been some speculative investment acquisitions.”

Much of the development involves research and development space, said Ken Ashen, senior vice president with CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc. “The nature of the tenants has changed,” said Ashen. “The area’s moving into commercial high tech, computer software, telecommunications. I call the space back-office or R & D-type; space. This is not typically Class A office space. That’s the direction we’re going.”

The area also is drawing interest from corporations looking to establish headquarters in the area.

“Look at the kind of tenants we’ve sold land to Cheesecake Factory, Corevent Engineering, Helmut House,” said Dan Trapp, president of First City Corp., a real estate management and brokerage firm, referring to recent sales of parcels at the Lost Hills Business Park in Calabasas. Cypress Land Co., “a corporate headquarters-type developer,” bought about 19 acres in the same business park.

Companies are interested in locating their headquarters along that stretch of the 101 in part because of the appeal of the cities there. Hoping to take advantage of that appeal is Gary Leff, who, along with Ric Capretta, is developing a 61,000-square-foot office building at the Lost Hills Business Park.

“Office buildings usually end up where the bosses live. Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, Westlake that’s where the jobs are being created,” said Leff. “It’s an area that has less crime; you avoid city taxes and you’re in a clean environment.”

Like any freeway-visible property, corporations located along this stretch of the 101 also receive free advertising. “There’s always been strong demand for freeway-visible property,” said Tony Principe, vice president with Westcord Commerical Real Estate Services. “With this freeway, there’s an estimated 180,000 cars going by a day. This is a real valuable asset for anyone located there.”

Market conditions are finally right for purchasing land and taking advantage of these benefits, said Dwyer. “There’s been a substantial reduction in land prices over the last few years, particularly in the last year,” said Dwyer, who estimates that land prices have fallen 50 percent since the early ’90s. “Second, there’s a good feeling of optimism in the marketplace that the economy is strong and will stay strong.”

Among other real estate activity in the area:

A sale is pending on the 600,000-square-foot former Northrop Grumman Corp. facility. The purchaser plans to renovate the property and “put it back in the market in tenant-friendly condition,” said Ashen, who declined to identify the buyer. An unnamed source familiar with the deal, however, identified the buyer as Bruce Rothman.

Silagi Development purchased about five acres at Townsgate Road in Westlake Village, where it plans to build 100,000 square feet of office space.

Adjacent to that property, Syndicated Real Estate purchased about three acres for a mini-storage facility.

The Promenade at Westlake, located at Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards, was completed by developer Rick Caruso of Caruso Affiliated Holdings. Tenants at the retail center include Bristol Farms, Barnes & Noble and Macaroni Grill.

Sanport Development is constructing a 112,000-square-foot building for WellPoint Health Networks Inc. in Newbury Park.

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