Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fremont Newswrap: 4/29/08

Fremont may get its own Berkeley Bowl

A Fremont developer has pledged to bring the Berkeley Bowl supermarket to Fremont, or develop a copycat market himself.

Ray Tong of Pacific General Construction guaranteed a Berkeley Bowl-style market at last week's City Council meeting to anchor a retail and office complex he wants to develop on an

8.7-acre vacant lot at Auto Mall Parkway and Technology Court.

The Berkeley Bowl is an independent grocery store known for extensive and inexpensive produce and bulk food departments, and very long checkout lines.

Fremont has been trying to lure an independent and upscale grocer, but so far hasn't persuaded Whole Foods or a similar chain to come to town.

Tong said he isn't as interested in Whole Foods.

"I think that a Berkeley Bowl concept would work here better." he said. "I don't think in Fremont you have the deep pockets that you find in other communities."

Tong, whose company has built a Ranch 99 Market, said he has approached the Berkeley Bowl's owner about opening a store in Fremont or serving as a consultant for a market that Tong would develop and own.

"By hook or by crook, we are going to bring the (Berkeley Bowl) concept here," he told the council.

Acting against the recommendation of city planners, the council voiced unanimous approval for Tong's concept.

The planners had argued that the development would cause significant traffic impacts at Auto Mall Parkway and Osgood Road, convert needed ndustrial-zoned land to commercial uses, and most importantly, Planning Director Jeff Schwob said, draw customers from similar commercial centers in nearby neighborhoods.

"This could have a real drain-down effect," Schwob said.

Councilmember Anu Natarajan disagreed. She said that the site on Auto Mall between the two freeways was well-suited for residents stopping off for dinner or groceries on their way home.

Tong said the development likelywill have a supermarket, restaurants, shops and offices.

He must now present the city with a more detailed proposal and an updated traffic analysis before the council can approve the plan and change the zoning code to allow for the commercial development.

If all goes smoothly, Tong said he might be able to start construction by the end of next year.

Fremont picks firm to start downtown plan
City leaders have tapped a new developer to jump-start plans to build something resembling a downtown near the BART station.

TMG Partners, a San Francisco-based development firm, was named lead developer this week for the city's Capitol Avenue project, which stalled last year when a previous lead developer found himself at the center of a family squabble, city officials said.

Fremont officials want Capitol Avenue to be extended to Fremont Boulevard and integrated with adjacent properties to form the heart of a high-density urban neighborhood with high-end retail, residences and public amenities.

Two years ago, city leaders thought they had a plan to do just that.

Developer William Faidi, who had teamed with development firm Blake Hunt Ventures, presented a concept to the City Council that would have extended Capitol and integrated several parcels to make room for a public plaza and about 200,000 square feet of ground floor retail space below residential towers.

But Faidi, who owns an adjacent shopping center at Fremont Boulevard and Mowry Avenue, soon found himself in a legal fight with relatives over family assets, city officials said.

Faidi's legal troubles prevented him from following through on the project. That forced the city to turn to TMG, according to a city report presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

It could prove hard for TMG to propose anything quite so ambitious in the 180 days it has to present a conceptual design.

The firm controls about seven vacant acres owned by the city at Capitol Avenue directly west of State Street.

To extend Capitol farther west to Fremont Boulevard, TMG will need participation from Faidi, who owns the shopping center that houses Barnes & Noble, as well as three other nearby landholders, including Fremont Bank.

At this point, it's unclear how involved Faidi can be in the project, Fremont Economic Development Director Daren Fields said earlier this month. Mayor Bob Wasserman said he wouldn't be surprised if TMG proposed a mix of housing and retail on the city-owned site, and provided for Capitol to be extended to Fremont Boulevard in a later development phase.

"We always wanted to cut Capitol through and make Fremont Bank a cornerstone," said Wasserman, who also wants a cultural arts center to be part of the long-term plan.

As for the retail, Fields said, the city is looking to take "the next step up the retail ladder," with higher-end shops that want to have a street presence.

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