FREMONT — After failing for nearly a decade to redevelop a vacant lot in the Centerville district, City Council members say the project before them hasn't been worth the wait.
But given the dire economy and bleak development prospects in Centerville, council members tonight are expected to approve proceeding with a proposal to build 188 apartments and 14 shops on 6.6 acres along Fremont Boulevard between Thornton Avenue and Bonde Way.
The proposal by developer Blake Hunt Ventures is far less ambitious than earlier ones, including Blake Hunt's previous plan to build about 300 apartment units.
"Yes, it's disappointing, but I also think it's reflective of the times," Councilman Bob Wieckowski said. "We have shopping centers that are going under because people aren't making the rent. Who are the new businesses that are coming into Centerville?"
City leaders see the vacant lot as the key tool in revitalizing Centerville's commercial center, which hasn't recovered from losing its auto dealerships and auto-related businesses decades ago.
The city's Redevelopment Agency has spent $12.5 million to buy the parcels and to clean up the land, which once housed a banquet hall, car dealership and a shopping center.
But it has struggled to get the property redeveloped.
Two supermarket proposals and three proposals for a mix of homes and shops have all fallen through over the past eight years. This is Blake Hunt's third attempt at developing the site after failing to come through both with a supermarket and a mixed-use proposal.
"I think people are worn out and skeptical because things haven't jelled," Councilwoman Sue Chan said.
To make this project viable, the city is proposing to sell the land to Blake Hunt for $1 and contribute an additional $13.5 million for infrastructure improvements.
In total, the city would be contributing about $26 million toward the project — roughly about one-third of the total cost.
Given the public investment, Councilman Bill Harrison would have liked to have seen more shops, but he doesn't want to go back to the drawing board.
"Do we sit and let nothing happen until the market turns?" Councilman Bill Harrison asked. "How does that help Centerville?"
Tonight council members are scheduled to decide whether to extend an exclusive negotiating agreement with Blake Hunt and its partner CenterStreet Development. A final agreement on the development will be required by early next year, with a deadline of 2013 to begin construction.
The project would include seven apartment buildings, with mostly market-rate studio and one-bedroom units, rising two to three stories above parking garages. There also would be a pool and courtyard. About half of the 14 retail spaces would be for restaurants.
Officials acknowledged that it's not quite the catalyst they had in mind years ago to re-energize the area, but they think it will be beneficial.
"We hope it will tip the balance and get the private sector to come back (to Centerville)," Redevelopment Agency Director Elisa Tierney said, adding that the Redevelopment Agency will need to pour about $100 million into Centerville.
"That's how redevelopment works," she said. "It takes a long time and a lot of money."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.