HAYWARD -- New ownership has renewed hopes that the downtown Cinema Place commercial complex -- a showcase of brand new vacant storefronts since opening in 2008 -- will become a catalyst for injecting life into the area.

The developer completed construction at "one of the worst times ever," said Sean Brooks, the city's economic development director. Because of financing arrangements, it wasn't possible to lower rents or do significant tenant improvements to attract businesses in a flagging economy.

It was sold at a loss, Brooks said, and a city manager report states that new owner Levy Affiliated has committed to investing $200,000 to $250,000 to do more finishing work in the spaces. Levy also "indicated they will invest $10 to $20 per square foot for tenant improvements and more as required for larger restaurants."

"The new owners have given us carte blanche, and we're very aggressive to make deals," said real estate broker Michael Tanzillo.

Tanzillo said they have a "menu" of sorts with varying rent prices and improvements that can be done depending on how much the tenant can pay per month.

"We're marketing the hell out of it," he said. "We're talking to all kinds of people right now, mostly food users."

Other downtown buildings haven't enjoyed such attention. Many need repairs or upgrades, and owners are not willing or unable to shell out the money to fix them up, said James McMasters, a commercial real estate agent with downtown listings.

He said Hayward tends to attract "mom and pop" businesses with little in the way of credit or financing, which is not conducive to a landlord spending a lot of money to get them in the space.

Al Antonini, who owns the old bank building at Main and B streets, said he's lowered the price as much as he can but can't get anyone to "sign on the dotted line."

"There's this view of property owners that's negative," said Greg Jones, former city manager who is now in real estate. "People blame them for the vacancies, but I think that's a myth perpetuated by people who don't know how the market works."

Jones said the key is drawing businesses to an attractive space and streamlining the permitting process as much as possible. He said it's discouraging for businesses if there are procedural uncertainties that could potentially put off opening day and the resultant revenue.

"It's like people saying they want really great restaurants; well, someone's got to risk money to do that," he said. "It's an investment to put a couple hundred thousand dollars into a kitchen. It's a business decision."

Jones and Antonini agreed that the best way to get people to look at Hayward is to make Hayward look better.

Antonini said he may have lost prospective tenants a few years ago when, as they crossed the street in the middle of the day, they were confronted by a man wearing a skirt who flashed them and inquired as to what services they desired.

"You'll have a tenant and show them the space, and when you come out the door, there are all these interesting characters yelling at each other," Jones said. "The perception of safety and cleanliness are huge issues."

Regardless, McMasters said the prospect of new tenants up the block is promising. He said economic times are changing, and that in general, there's been a considerable uptick in the number of companies out there that are looking for space to rent or buy.

"Hayward's going to get healthy again," he said.