If you worry that the U.S. economy is still in the doldrums, brighten your mood with a review of current planning projects posted to the City of Walnut Creek website. There’s hope to be found there if growth is your thing.
From the number of new projects being proposed and others set to start construction, it’s clear that investment confidence is back in at least one corner of the economy – the construction of new, multi-family housing and retail projects in and around downtown Walnut Creek.
Nearly 1500 new rental and condos are in the development pipeline. Construction on several residential projects may start this spring and summer. They are: The mixed-use 40-unit Village complex on Newell Avenue (replacing the former eight-story white building that was torn down in November); the 300-unit Brio Apartments (the site of the former Long’s Drugs headquarters); the 100-unit Arroyo Apartments; and the stalled 126-unit North Main Apartments at the corner of Ygnacio Valley Road and North Main Street.
Developers have also introduced another new apartment, The Landing, which will raise 141 new apartments across Ygnacio Valley Road from the BART station.
Photo, right: The Arroyo Apartments project
“The city is emerging from the recession incrementally,” said Economic Development Director Ron Gerber.
Despite the hopeful indicators the city has a ways to go before it returns to pre-recession sales and property tax levels but it is seeing capital investment in new construction projects – mostly in rental housing, mixed-use projects and retail projects in and around downtown, Gerber said.
Two notable retail projects also are winding their way through the approval process. One is a new 55,000-square-foot Safeway in the long-struggling Shadelands Business Park. This Safeway would rise on 25 acres the company owns at Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove roads to replace a smaller store across Ygnacio Valley Road in the aging Encina Grande shopping center. The new store would be part of what Safeway’s development company, Property Development Centers, calls a lifestyle center – complete with fitness center, senior housing, space for shops and restaurants, a children’s park and walking trails.
Property Development Centers is making a heavy push to win community buy-in for the project, the company hosting a community open house Tuesday evening from 6 to 7 p.m. at 2800 Ygnacio Valley Road. It has also set up a website, SafewayatOrchards.com to introduce the public to this mixed-use project and invite people to share comments and concerns.
When Safeway first introduced the idea of building a new store, residents in the Woodlands and Northgate neighborhoods were wary, if not downright hostile. They worried about increased traffic and wondered if a new Safeway – even if it was bigger and offered more services than the Encina Grande store — was the best way to use the 25 acres in a business park that struggles with office vacancy rates as high as 25 to 30 percent.
The city has spent the past several years trying to figure out what sorts of businesses to bring into Shadelands, one of the East Bay’s original business parks. Shadelands opened in the 1950s with such gold-standard tenants at Dow Chemical and Varian Instruments. Over the years, businesses moving out of San Francisco and Oakland and into the East Bay suburbs bypassed Shadelands, preferring to relocate to Class A office buildings in the East Bay that had direct access to freeways and public transit.
Meanwhile, Walnut Creek’s downtown has no problem at all with high vacancy rates, especially in retail. Up to 96 percent of retail space is occupied, Gerber says.
Last year, the city decided to sell a parking lot it owned on “Cadillac Corner,” the northwest corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Main Street, across from Tiffany and Co., the Apple Store and Neiman Marcus. Walnut Creek-based B.H. Development bought the lot for $2.6 million. BH owner Brian Hirahara has been in talks with the city’s Design Review Commission about finessing the look of a two-story, 12,000-square-foot building he hopes to build on the site.
The building will feature ground-floor retail and a restaurant with outdoor rooftop dining and plenty of trees, shrubbery, trellises, planter boxes and herb gardens. Hirahara hasn’t said which tenants he hopes to bring into such a desirable location, but locals are hoping the restaurant will have a chef capable of enhancing Walnut Creek’s reputation as a destination for fine dining.
Although most of these projects are in the pipeline now, Gerber expects that most of the construction will take place between 2015 and 2018. This includes work on the BART transit village, which should add 600 new housing units to downtown.