The city's bustling SuperTarget shopping center off Interstate 15 will soon house a Golden Corral Restaurant, which could bring about 135 more local jobs in September, Hesperia city officials announced Friday.


Franchises Johnny and Sheri Rojo closed escrow Thursday on the future site of the Golden Corral, with plans to break ground this month on a 11,080-square-foot family-style restaurant seating 388 guests.


The city helped jump-start the new business through an incentive program that's offering the Rojos a $400,000 forgivable loan, which will not be available until the restaurant opens and jobs are documented, and will only be converted to equity when the business proves its performance over a five-year period, according to Steve Lantsberger, economic development director for Hesperia. He added the facility must maintain the jobs and investment to keep the funds, which amount to the city paying $600 per job created per year.


Hesperia Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith said he's pleased that 74 percent of construction costs for Golden Corral have gone to Victor Valley sub-contractors, the majority of whom are located in Hesperia."


Golden Corral will be one of the newest additions to the High Desert Gateway Center, a roughly 350,000-square-foot complex on the southwest corner of Main Street and I-15. Ross Dress for Less recently broke ground in the complex, and a Marshalls clothing store is also on its way, Lantsberger said.


"We're starting to see some life in the retail market again," Lantsberger said. "Some of the indicators are more positive than they were a couple months ago."


With a lawsuit holding up a Walmart slated for the southeast corner of Main Street and Escondido Avenue now out of the way, city officials have observed momentum picking up in the local market for smaller stores.


"I think that once other retailers see bigger players and bigger stores coming back into the marketplace, it's going to provide them some more comfort that there will be consumers and shoppers in the area out buying goods and services," Lantsberger said.


Lewis Retail Centers has struggled to fill High Desert Gateway since SuperTarget opened in October 2008.


Now, Lanstberger estimates the center is about two-thirds to three-fourths of the way built out, and city officials anticipate attracting more retailers at a Las Vegas major retail conference in May.


But a slew of prospective businesses have been unable to overcome a still-cautious lending market. Ice Castle, an $8.6-million Olympic training facility and ice rink originally slated to open in 2008, remains on indefinite hold.


"Ice Castle has fallen subject, like a lot of other franchises, to the capital credit crunch," Lantsberger said. "We're still keeping our fingers crossed that we'll get that deal done one day."


Golden Corrals are widespread across the United States, but the Hesperia franchise will be only the second in Southern California and fifth in the state. The North Carolina-based chain buffet and grill features pasta, pizza, fresh vegetables, salad bar and a selection of carved meats, along with a bakery and dessert cafe.


Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at nlindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.