Monday, October 8, 2007

Developer chosen for Centerville Unified site

Another developer has been chosen to revitalize 6.6 acres in the Centerville Unified Redevelopment Area.

Fremont City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency Board, selected Danville-based Blake Hunt Ventures by a vote of 3-2 at the Oct. 2 Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Vice Mayor Bob Wieckowski and Councilmember Anu Natarajan dissented, voting in favor of the team of Phoenix-based Opus West and San Mateo-based Regis Homes.

In the planning stages since April 2000, the site has had three different projects proposed by two developers.

All three projects failed to move forward for different reasons.

A grocery-anchored shopping center lost steam when the proposed grocery store for the project pulled out, and developers were unable to find a suitable replacement.

A restaurant-anchored, vertical mixed-use project dubbed Centerville Market Place fell through due to escalating construction costs and financial infeasibility.

The developers of that project returned with a 100-percent retail center, once again named Centerville Market Place.

However, by the end of last year, rising construction costs once again blocked progress on the site.

The site is bounded by Fremont Boulevard, Bonde Way, Post Street and Thornton Avenue.

According to city staff reports, the RDA Board authorized a request for qualifications for the site on June 26.

Six development teams submitted qualifications by the Aug. 16 deadline for the site.

The applicants were then narrowed down to three development teams, which were invited to an interview to present qualifications and a vision for the site.

Staff reports state the interview panel consisted of five city staff members, three consultants and two representatives of the Centerville community.

For the site, Blake Hunt Ventures proposed two projects, one of which included a 57,000-square-foot mixed-use retail and residential project that included a 20,000-square-foot grocery store and a 16,000-square-foot secondary anchor store, possibly a drug store.

Additionally, the firm proposed another 21,000 square feet of various retail and restaurant space.

There would be 44 to 48 residential units in six buildings on the south end of the property between Fremont Boulevard and Post Street.

There would be 245 parking spaces for retail.

Blake Hunt Ventures also proposed a 99,200-square-foot retail-only project that included a 45,000-square-foot grocery store.

A drug store or secondary anchor store would again be 16,000 square feet, and there would be an additional 38,200 square feet of additional retail and restaurants.

There would be 427 parking spaces in the project.

Brad Blake, chief executive officer of Blake Hunt Ventures, said his firm believed the Centerville community was looking for a strong sense of identity and place, and that a retail project would bring that to the area.

"We really think this should be a 100 percent retail project," he said. "If there should be some residential, we look at it as infill and don't want it to be the Ôdriver' of the project."

Blake added he believed as many as three grocery stores were interested in taking up residency on the site.

The team of Opus West and Regis Homes proposed building 20,000 to 35,000 square feet of retail along Fremont Boulevard, with 170 residential units of rental housing in the interior and along the rear of the site near Post Street.

Units may also have been added as a second story above the retail, reports state, with as many as 200 units on the site.

As many as 500 parking spaces would have been built in two parking garages behind the retail buildings. The garages would have been two or three stories high, staff reports state.

John Eller, an architect with SB Architects, said the Opus/Regis project would have provided an attractive community gathering space.

"We expect to provide high-quality development along the frontage of the project," he said. "Addressing Fremont Boulevard as the focal point of the project is the key to this plan."

Natarajan said that while both presentations were very good, she favored the Opus West/Regis Home proposal, as it had residential units that could be filled.

She said other types of retail stores could move in without a grocery store and still be economically viable.

"We're looking for a project that's viable, not a pie in the sky proposal," she said. "We want something that can be a catalyst of the community. If you're looking at a grocery-anchored retail project and it doesn't happen, we don't have a plan B."

Councilmember Steve Cho said when this first project first came to light in 2000, the community expressed the desire for a grocery store on the site.

"I remember seven or eight years ago, the community came together and voiced what they wanted for that site: it was a grocery store," he said. "Without an anchor store, it's difficult to get other stores to come to the site and make it viable. I think having all retail there will bring economic vitality to the area."

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