Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wrecking crews make room

Wrecking crews make room
Town Center will replace old Mare Island buildings
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 09/09/2008

WORKERS on Monday demolish a building where the new Town Center will be built on Mare Island. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

The much-anticipated Mare Island Town Center project is inching forward with the demolition of several old military buildings, a Lennar Mare Island spokesman said Monday.

Lennar Mare Island, LLC, the island's master developer, is razing four former military buildings as part of the ongoing work for what will be Mare Island's new commercial core, called the Town Center, said LMI spokesman Jason Keadjian.

It's the most ambitious commercial development project in Vallejo in three decades, and is key to the island's reuse plan, he said.

Following the 1996 Mare Island Naval Shipyard's closure, the city chose LMI in 1997 to implement a reuse plan. The plan includes roughly 7 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, 1,400 homes and many recreational amenities, Keadjian said.

These latest demolitions, near Morton Field between Walnut and Railroad avenues, brings to seven the number of buildings razed for this phase of the project, Keadjian said.

Three were leveled earlier this year.

"With around 1 million square feet of planned commercial space, the Town Center development is a huge part of Mare Island and the largest commercial development project currently under way in Vallejo," Keadjian said.

LMI also is removing potentially hazardous building materials, like asbestos and lead-based paint, from 12 buildings included in the project, he said.

Abatement and demolition, being overseen by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, should be completed by year's end, he said.

The Town Center project, approved by city officials last year, will require the destruction of the popular Morton Field. Part of the plan, however, requires LMI to find another spot to put a playing field, Keadjian said.

The Town Center will create more than a million square feet of office, research and development and light industrial space, he said, plus about 60,000 square feet of retail space. At build-out, the project should generate an estimated 2,000 jobs, though that's several steps and years out, he added. The project also will mean "significant improvement" to G street and Walnut Avenue, he said.

Through working closely with the city and others, the $100 million-plus Town Center plan seeks to balance historic preservation and economic development, Keadjian said. Many existing historic resources have been integrated into the 83-acre project's design, he said.

Also, the more businesses that locate on the island, the fewer will have to pay into a special tax district that helps fund ongoing maintenance, Keadjian said. It's one way officials plan to make the island "self-sustaining," he said.

The progress of this and other Mare Island projects is contingent on the Navy's continued environmental cleanup of the island, Keadjian and Economic Development Program Manager Susan McCue said. There's some Navy-owned land overlapping the area designated for the Town Center, McCue said.

"We're working with the regulators and the Navy to move the project forward," she said. The focus has been to make sure Mare Island remains a priority for the Navy and the regulators, McCue said.

Navy Base Closure Manager Tony Megliola said the island's environmental cleanup is "on track" and "going according to schedule."

"We intend to environmentally complete the site in 2010 and transfer the property to the city in 2011," he said.

In the past year, nine firms have come to the island and eight have expanded, Keadjian said. More than 90 businesses and more than 2,000 jobs now call Mare Island home, he added.

• Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at 553-6824 or RachelZ@thnewsnet.com.