WALNUT CREEK -- A streamlined bus service from the Pleasant Hill-Contra Costa Centre BART station to the Shadelands Business Park may be one of the first steps in revitalizing the aging park, which has struggled with vacancy rates in the past several years.
County Connection's Route 7 will travel directly to and from the Pleasant Hill BART station to Shadelands -- no longer down Ygnacio Valley Road -- starting in August.
That is a major plus for the park, according to business owners. "One of the complaints about the Shadelands is the distance and the time it takes to get from BART using the existing bus service," said Scott Butler, vice president of R&D Quality Operations Services for Del Monte Foods and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce board. "This will help in recruiting and retaining staff that commute."
The new Route 7 will have fewer stops, picking up every 15 minutes during peak commute hours. The route now makes stops in Shadelands every 45 minutes.
But this is more than a route change, as business and city leaders hope the shuttle will someday be subsidized by park property owners and be free for employees -- much like the Free Ride Trolley bus that trolls downtown.
All of this is part of a plan led by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, business owners and city officials to bring an economic resurgence to Shadelands.
During the recent recession, the business park hit a high of more than 40 percent vacancy, according to real estate experts at the time.
That struggle continues today.
"The Shadelands market hasn't recovered from the historic lows during the recession based on the park's functional obsolescence and availability of traditional office space," said Eugene McGrane, associate director of the realty company Cushman and Wakefield of California.
This is why property owners are working to create a property business improvement district.
It would collect fees from property owners in the park and that money -- an estimated $300,000 a year -- would be pooled to pay for universal needs in the park, such as the shuttle.
If subsidized -- something County Connection is open to -- the shuttles may be painted distinctively and Wi-Fi added so they are "jazzed up" a bit compared to regular bus service, said Anne Muzzini, director of planning and marketing for the Central Contra Costa Transit Authority.
An improvement district would also give Shadelands something it has never had before -- a unified constituency of business owners. Together, the group could pay for things such as the shuttle, directional signs and security as well as advocate for zoning changes to allow different uses in the park.
Much of the Shadelands zoning hasn't changed since the park opened in 1975. But a project by Safeway to redevelop its property there into a new shopping center would, if approved, be one of the first major shifts.
"I think (Shadelands) property owners want to rethink the plan and get some momentum, and (Safeway) may kick-start that momentum -- the dominoes might finally be lined up," said Jay Hoyer, president of the Walnut Creek chamber.
A request for a business improvement district should be in front of the City Council -- which must approve the creation of the district and levy fees -- in May, Butler said. Currently, business owners are circulating a petition to gather support for the district.
Many think Shadelands will, in the future, thrive as a home of high-paying jobs.
"I think it's important that we have critical mass and amenities around us for our employees," Butler said. "Obviously, the use in the Shadelands may be different from in Bishop Ranch. Shadelands just needs to find its own niche."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.