Dublin strategies position city for retail growth

Mayor outlines plans for business districts to meet differing demands

Despite a revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti is already eyeing better days ahead for his fast-growing city.

Speaking to a Tri-Valley real estate group, Sbranti said Dublin is positioning itself strategically to develop three major business districts: transit, retail and Village Parkway. The city hasn't given up on creating a downtown, but Sbranti said Dublin, like San Ramon, never had a "Main Street" corridor that provide historic downtowns in Pleasanton, Livermore and Danville. Sbranti added, however, that the Village Parkway district probably has the most similarities to the traditional downtown.

"Dublin was developed in the 1960s and 1970s around a 'strip' model without a traditional Main Street," he said. "So we are approaching our downtown district in a different way, splitting it into three areas and allowing businesses to choose which one they prefer."

Even so, Dublin Boulevard has become the city's most traveled thoroughfare with its intersection at Dougherty Road one of the most congested in the Tri-Valley. To spruce it up, Dublin is applying a federal grant of $3.5 million to enhanced streetscape on the roadway, including a new "Eternal Ribbon" steel artwork on the east side of Dougherty at Dublin Boulevard.

"The art piece is the start of more to come during the coming months on Dublin Boulevard," Sbranti said. "The 'Eternal Ribbon' is the gateway sign to our city."

Sbranti noted that what once were Mervyn's, Expo and Circuit City, are empty buildings now. Although that is a loss for Dublin in terms of sales and property taxes, they also represent an opportunity for redevelopment to fit Dublin's new strategy. With their huge parking lots and close proximity to the new Dublin West BART station, these areas are part of a new pedestrians-friendly gateway Sbranti and the City Council are planning for the future.

As the commercial districts are better defined by the city, property owners will have the chance to propose changes by expanding their buildings with new businesses or tearing them down for something new and different. Since the ultimate square footage of the commercial sites will be fixed by city planners, Sbranti pointed out that developers who present their plans first will be given preference.

"The way government traditionally plans is to look at each individual parcel and then decide what type of shop goes here and what type of office goes there, and then developers come in and build according to those plans," Sbranti said.

"We have a market that doesn't work like that," he added. "The market is going to dictate some of these economic activities. So what we're trying to say is rather than try to make a circle fit in a square peg and make something happen, let's consider retail development, some offices and obviously some housing near the new BART station. Let the market dictate what works best and where."

"We're also going to create a little bit of competition in our downtown by letting developers look at square feet available and maximizing those sites," he explained "If you don't step to the plate with your expansion plans, you may be disappointed but, of course, you can still make improvements to your property."

Sbranti said the city can't force anything on private property owners and it respects that. So it is creating an incentive plan to let businesses and property owners do what's best for them and the city.

As for the new BART station, which was supposed to open last year, Sbranti said design conflicts between BART engineers and those at Caltrans, which controls what's built over freeways, forced the reconstruction of steel walkways from the Pleasanton and Dublin sides of the station. That work is now under way with new walkways expected to be on site later this year and the station to be completed and open at this time in 2011.

"This is going to be big for Dublin and will fit right in with our downtown development strategy," Sbranti said.

The Tralee housing complex at Dougherty and Dublin Boulevard stands empty, Sbranti said, after the developer "fell on hard times." He said the city is working with private firms to consider taking over the project and turning the units into rental apartments since there's little demand for the condos that once were for sale in the project.

Asked about a new Whole Foods supermarket planned in a strip mall across from Hacienda Crossings, Sbranti said those plans are on hold after the mall developer couldn't get financing.

"He's in a catch-22 situation," Sbranti said, "with lenders saying he can't have the financing until all tenants sign their leases and tenants refusing to sign leases until the center is under construction."

Although Whole Foods has funds to build, it won't proceed until there's a shopping center to go with it, Sbranti said.

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