New office tower for Riverside, Calif.

RIVERSIDE -- Moshe Silagi is digging up dirt.

Despite the economic downturn, the developer has begun excavation for Regency Tower at Orange and 10th streets.

The project calls for an office building designed with three levels of underground parking and 10 aboveground floors with 250,000 square feet.

Machines have been busy scooping up earth since Feb. 1 and trucks have been hauling it away. Crews are going to remove 60,000 cubic yards of dirt, or about 4,000 truckloads, Silagi said.

He has built four other projects in Riverside all on speculation, like this one. That means he didn't have tenants lined up when he took out a construction loan.

Though Regency Tower will represent a $70 million investment, Silagi said by phone this week that he's not worried about the troubled economy. He's weathered these cycles before.

He's optimistic in particular because law firms and other potential tenants in the Inland area have grown over the years but haven't had newer office space available to them in downtown Riverside, near courts and government offices, he said.

"Riverside is still a fantastic location," Silagi said.

The city's development director, Belinda Graham, and Councilman Mike Gardner agreed there is pent-up demand, particularly among law firms, for high-end office space downtown.

"It's not being constructed fast enough," Graham said.

Silagi has not signed up any tenants.

Gardner, whose ward includes downtown, said it's good for the city that Silagi has such faith in the project at a time when other developers might delay construction.

"He really believes in it," Gardner said.

The building should be ready for tenants by October or November 2009, Silagi said.

The project would be the first major private-sector office building erected downtown since the red-brick, seven-story Riverside Metro Center opened on Market Street in May 1991.

It also would be the tallest privately owned building in the city.

Silagi has made only one change to the project since the City Council approved it in January 2007. A small building planned across a courtyard from the tower has been reduced from 6,000 square feet to 4,500 square feet to create a larger courtyard, Silagi said.

Ideas for the small building include a restaurant and bank, he said.