Biz Buzz: Ambitious plans for former Trebek property

The Limoneira Co., a large agriculture grower based in Santa Paula, has big plans for Windfall Farms, the 724-acre thoroughbred horse ranch in Creston once owned by Jeopardy game show host Alex Trebek.

It plans to replant hundreds of acres of alfalfa and fodder with vineyards and create 75 10-acre residential estates, a winery and clubhouse with pools and tennis courts that would go side by side with the stables and homes for equine-lovers, said Greg Boyd, general manager of Windfall Farms.

The only catch is some of this has to wait until the end of 2012, when farmland preservation restrictions imposed by the Williamson Act expire.

At that time, parcels as small as 10 acres can be subdivided and resold, creating valuable small agricultural parcels with home-sites, according to Boyd.

In 2005, Limoneira and the Davis family, which also owns Templeton Livestock Market, bought the property from Trebek for $10 million.

An estimated $25 million had gone into improving the farm before that, with stables, racetrack and pastures designed to be reminiscent of Kentucky’s Churchill Downs.

At that time, the Davis family wanted to bring back the glory days of horse breeding, training and racing. As Dwain Davis told The Tribune in 2006, “It’s like Kentucky in California … (and has the) potential to be a great horse ranch, to produce great runners.”

However, they discovered the horse business was not viable during a recession, Boyd said.

“We have to do something that is more sustainable,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting, and we want to utilize the underlying real estate with a high-end project that has design guidelines so the development isn’t one big mish-mash.”

The property has tons of water to sustain development, he added, with four large wells, one pumping up to 1,300 gallons a minute.

Last fall, the Davis family, which had plans to re-energize the farm into a premier horse center, was no longer able to keep up debt payments and pulled out of its partnership with Limoneira, which then restructured the finances and assumed complete ownership of the property, Boyd said.

The Santa Paula company, privately held for more than 100 years, went public last month and began trading on the Nasdaq under the LMNR symbol.

Valued at $163 million in its most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is one of the largest avocado and citrus growers in the country and has real estate interests in Santa Paula, Santa Maria and Paradise Valley, Ariz.

— Melanie Cleveland

SLO Vespa moves to Monterey Street

SLO Vespa has moved to 1330 Monterey St. from 11 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo because its former building was in the process of being sold, manager Jules DuRocher said.

The store has also hired certified Vespa/Piaggio mechanic Jason Busch, who came here from Illinois and worked several years for a London Vespa/Piaggio dealer.

SLO Vespa opened a year ago and is owned by Ducati of Santa Barbara.

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Blue Shield of California recently designated Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton as a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement.

There are about 40 hospitals in California with the same designation, according the health insurance company’s website.

— Julia Hickey