As the national economy stalls, local leaders are stepping up to set the stage for development and job creation. Three back-to-back events in San Leandro this week symbolize the city's efforts.
On Monday night, the City Council will hold a workshop on one of the final elements in a plan to bring a convention hotel, office complex, housing developments and recreational facilities to the San Leandro Marina.
On Tuesday night, the focus will shift to downtown at a public forum on the Village Marketplace shopping plaza that would occupy the site of the former Albertson's supermarket on East 14th Street.
On Wednesday morning, architects and planners will gather at a $40-per-person conference titled "ReWorking Suburbia" that aims to make San Leandro a center for industrial development that puts jobs close to mass transit.
"This is a core city function," said San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy, "to bring new businesses and jobs to the city as well as to support existing businesses."
Nothing will change overnight. But proponents say each of the three events points San Leandro in the right economic direction.
Marina Project seen as lure for Silicon Valley clientele
Monday night's 7 p.m. workshop at City Hall will focus on one aspect of a larger plan to develop 40 acres out of the 1,800 acres the city owns along San Francisco Bay.
Under discussion will be a proposal to turn the current marina into a marshland at a cost of $11 million, eliminating 465 boat berths in the process.
The city now runs an annual deficit of about $1.5 million to operate the marina. Unless officials decide to fund that shortfall indefinitely, San Leandro needs a plan to deal with the boating area so its woes don't sink the larger project, say city economic development officials.
The overall plan is the result of more than two years of work and the input of a 35-member Citizen Advisory Committee. Details are available on the city's Shoreline Marina Area Development web page.
In essence, the city is working with a private developer, Cal Coast Companies, to create a mixed-use development including:
- a 225-room hotel and conference center;
- about 250,000 square feet of office space;
- about 170 housing units of various types;
- restaurants, some retail, a library and pedestrian amenities.
"It's the mix of uses that interests us," said Cal Coast president Ed Miller. "Without all the components we would not be interested."
Assuming the plan moves forward — Monday night's meeting is a way station in the regulatory crawl — Cal Coast would look for City Council approval, pursue an environmental review and vet the project with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
Miller's best guess is that it would be about two years before things fell into place and roughly $30 million in construction commenced — leading eventually to permanent hotel and restaurant jobs.
Once the hoped-for building permits fall into place, Miller said he would begin shopping for a Silicon Valley-type firm to anchor the office complex, bringing more jobs to San Leandro.
Village Marketplace seeks to create downtown destination
Tuesday night, also at 7 p.m. at City Hall, San Leandro residents can see the latest iteration of plans to bring a neighborhood supermarket, retail shops and a pedestrian plaza to the old Albertsons site on the 1500 block of East 14th Street.
Mayor Cassidy said the project could break ground in summer 2012, bringing construction jobs in the short term, and more spending and sales tax revenues to a prime location that has been inactive for about five years.
Innisfree President David Irmer said the plan being discussed Tuesday would have a Mediterranean feel centered by a tiled plaza and fountain.
"It is going to be very inviting," he promised.
Planning for the project started about 18 months ago. Irmer said about 30 design professionals have taken part in the planning phase. More than 100 workers will be employed during construction, which he hopes will be completed by the end of 2012.
He estimates that 75 ongoing retail jobs would be created by the supermarket — Fresh & Easy has signed up to anchor the site — and four other retail tenants, including Peet's Coffee.
He put a $10 million price tag on the development.
"There is some economic impact and it is quick," Irmer said.
ReWorking Suburbia event aims to raise San Leandro's profile
Wednesday morning from 8 a.m. until noon the focus shifts to the future at ReWorking Suburbia, a $40-per-person conference being held at San Leandro High School's Arts Education Center.
Sponsored by San Leandro by Design, an offshoot of the Chamber of Commerce, Wednesday's gathering will highlight the concept of smart urban design — locating jobs in vacant industrial sites close to transit rather than building in suburbia and expecting workers to move or commute.
Commercial real estate developer and conference organizer Gaye Quinn said the city's industrial zone west of Highway 880 is a perfect locale for such development.
"The last economic cycles were based on retail and housing and we overbuilt both," Quinn said.
She thinks the next cycle will be based on production jobs in information-age businesses that have a manufacturing component — a trend that will eventually benefit San Leandro.
Bringing the San Leandro economy to a boil
But such developments take time and they can't offer immediate help to an estimated 4,300 unemployed San Leandrans who need jobs now.
"The city has a lot of abiity to affect its economic destiny, but even if it does everything right, the whole marketplace is volatile and things can get derailed," said former city councilwoman Surlene Grant.
But Mayor Cassidy said there is already evidence of a change for the better.
The new Kaiser Hospital rising above Interstate 880 will be a $1 billion project by the time it is fully equiped in 2014.
"Overnight, Kaiser will become the largest single employer in the city," he said.
Cassidy likened economic development to boiling water. People watch the pot and watch the pot and nothing seems to happen. Then they look away and come back and suddenly the water is boiling.
"At some point people are going to look at San Leandro and say we're really cooking," he predicted.
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