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Fremont’s downtown ain’t going to be in Warm Springs

I felt a little bit behind the curve at tonight’s public workshop on how to redevelop 850 acres in and around the former NUMMI site.

Last time I wrote a long story about it, I was quoting the likes of Anu Natarajan saying the site could be Fremont’s long awaited downtown and Mayor Wasserman anticipating a development that would be like Bay Meadows on steroids.

But it was pretty clear on Monday that things have changed. The consultants and city staff members kept talking about jobs and industry. It was as if Vinnie Bacon had inserted chips into their brains. Midway through the presentation, I half expected one consultant to start barking, “Bacon, Bacon, Bacon.”

What gives?

Don’t these people know Fremont already has too many tech dorks in pleated pants. Fremont doesn’t need another clean technology firm, it needs a place where you can buy super fancy knives, or $80 pajamas or the best vegan cheese ever, available at Whole Foods.

Apparently this is what’s changed:
1) The feds gave Fremont $333,000 to study how to replace NUMMI jobs, not to build a better mall
2) Tesla’s arrival. It’s hard to build a new downtown when the center of the 850 acres is still a giant car plant.
3) The city isn’t convinced that there’s a market either for office space or high-end retail near the former NUMMI site. Apparently, south Fremont residents are a 20 minute drive away from several of the best malls in the Bay Area, and that might be convenient enough for retailers, even though none of those malls are in Fremont proper and one of them is over the Dumbarton bridge.
4) It doesn’t look good for the A’s

(In fairness to other folks, Wieckowski and Harrison both talked up job creation at the NUMMI site)

Anyway, the most frequent comment I was reading Monday was that Warm Springs needs more … schools.

Matt Artz

9 Comments

  1. Isn’t it interesting indeed!

    Likewise, it’s interesting that a City with one of the biggest redevelopment sites in the State has lost both it’s Economic Development Director and Community Development Director – not to mention an Assistant City Manager recently? You have to hand it to City Manager Fred Diaz – he’s an inspiring kinda guy.

    Of course the big news is #4! But stay tuned, the election is right around the corner; remember the surprise after the last one! I.e., A’s to WS.

  2. Who needs the A’s when we can have lots & lots of lemons… Vote for Vinnie!

  3. Yea that makes sense.. bring the downtown to the outskirts. I always thought downtown was suppose to be the center of town.

    The planners of the 50’s goofed by creating “the HUB” shopping center. This area could have been the center of town.

    I really think think it’s to late to create a TRUE downtown.. anything now would just be another shopping mall type.

    Even Centerville could have been more. Starting from Fremont blvd south of Thorton Ave south to Central. This could have been another historic downtown.

    Again, NO vision…

  4. Tonyg: I totall agree with what you say. But, I would argue that Centerville, under the right control and direction could happen; and, that someday there will be a “downtown” where both malls are and in-between. What is going to happen over the next 20 years will make it inevitable.

  5. I totally would have loved to see something like Plaza de Cesar Chavez in this area. This would attract a lot of restaurant business and speciality food shops. I also feel a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in needed in this neighborhood. I attended the meeting and the research seemed biased towards building new condos in the area near the BART station, but our schools are already overflowing. Without adding new classrooms how can you think of adding more housing. They did not seem to know what the community wanted.

  6. This just in…
    ”About one-quarter of Fremont’s roughly 40 million square feet of office and industrial space is vacant.” Anyone for reconsidering the ballpark/village? Those that claim to want “Fremont first” have screwed us all!

  7. Tonyg, #4, When Fremont was planned, State Route 238 was planned to go through Fremont just about where the BART line goes. It continued through Fremont and merged with 680 at Blacow. Until a few years ago, the unused overpass stood there waiting for 238, until it was torn down.

    When CalTrans began the process of designing 238 through Hayward, Union City and Fremont, in the early 70’s, they could not find housing to relocated those displaced in Decoto. The freeway was cancelled.

    The planners who decided on where the CBD was to be located built their plan on the CBD being equidistant between two freeways, 238 and 17 Inow 880). It was a valid plan then and the Hub (the name makes more sense when you know of the freeway situation) was built, starting in 1964 or so.

    One of the problems today is that an early landowner, Chesapeake Corp, broke up the land into small blocks (Town Square, where China Chile is) and essentially foreclosed any large user from coming in. An earlier city council expanded the CBD to allow the shopping center where Raley’s is now to come anchored at one end by Capwells. That center was never successful, primarily because it lacked another anchor tenant. In the late 70’s there was a major effort to find a user to provide that second anchor, but none were available. As I look back, most of those stores we looked at no longer exist, Liberty House, Bullock’s, and others. The only one still around is Penney’s, and they were committed to Newpark.

    An interesting sidelight. Fremont has been identified as a “boomburg.” Boomburgs are cities which have experienced double digit growth in each census since they reached the threshold of being seen as cities. Boomburgs exist in the southwest and west and include such places as Gilbert and Peoria in Arizona, Santa Ana, and Fremont. There are more.

    Some of the commonalities of this class of cities is a large number of freeway exits (I think Fremont has 14) and the fact than none of them have a downtown. I think all of them are trying to create one. Lots of people try to compare Fremont to Pleasanton or Palo Alto where there are great main street down towns. In most of the cases cited, there was a main street there, albeit somewhat run down, which needed to be upgraded. I would submit it is easier to upgrade something than to build from scratch, especially where someone built something there already.

    In Fremont’s case, the prime problem is parking. Much of the CBD is dedicated to parking and, as we build a new downtown, we need to replace the parking taken and build more. That adds to the development cost, so the city has to help with that if we expect someone to come. Unfortunately, without redevelopment or some other similar vehicle, the city has no ability to contribute.

    I guess I would counsel patience about a downtown. So long as there is some commitment, it will come, but it won’t be tomorrow, or even the next day.

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