But last month, Karen and Larry Duke, owners of the Perry & Key auto body and paint shop on Mission Boulevard just south of Tennyson Road, sold their building to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and his real estate firm.
The sale, the Dukes say, could help set into motion the kind of major neighborhood transformation the city has been working to foster for more than two years.
"He came and met us at the property very nice, a very hands-on kind of guy," Karen Duke said. "The kind of person he was on the football field."Montana was not immediately reachable for comment Tuesday, and his company has not yet filed any development application with the city.
But he did visit City Hall several times to conduct background research on the city's vision for the 3-acre property and its surroundings, confirmed Susan Daluddung, director of community and economic development.
"He has a good perspective on Hayward. It's the first place he lived when he moved out here," Daluddung said. "I've been impressed with him and his integrity."
Because it backs up onto the South Hayward BART station's overflow parking lot, the Perry & Key property has long been considered within the epicenter of an ambitious plan to create a pedestrian-friendly transit hub surrounded by homes and stores.
The 60-year-old shop sits on a stretch of Mission where a succession of business closures has left the area looking run-down and blighted. An abandoned skating rink has fallen into disrepair, and the once-popular Holiday Bowl closed in 2005.
In June 2006, after more than a year of study and debate, the City Council voted to adopt a new zoning plan that would allow more than 1,000 new high-density homes to be built in multi-story buildings surrounding the South Hayward BART station.
That would be one part of an even larger 240-acre neighborhood makeover, stretching up and down the nearby Mission Boulevard corridor.
Like many other Mission property owners, the Dukes began seeing the writing on the wall as city planners held meeting after meeting on the redevelopment plans.
Although at first they had no intentions of leaving, the couple, who now live in Santa Rosa, began negotiating in 2005 with a Southern California-based developer, The Olson Co., to buy the shop.
The city had worked with Olson on previous urban housing projects, including a condominium complex next to the downtown Hayward BART station.
Karen Duke said she understood what the city had in mind. Growing up in Oakland when it still had streetcar service, the 62-year-old said she experienced the convenience of neighborhood public transit.
But by the time city leaders hoped to see the South Hayward BART concept become a reality, the housing market began to slump and developers lost interest. In the meantime, incoming Mayor Mike Sweeney, who took office in July 2006, sharply criticized the city plan for being too massive and out of scale with the existing area.
The Dukes said that after they closed Perry & Key on Sept. 29, 2006, thinking everything was settled, Olson announced by fax that it was no longer pursuing the project.
"At the 11th hour they walked away, leaving us with no business, no employees and no tenants," Karen Duke said. "We had already closed our business with a contract in hand from them."
And then months later, said Duke along came Montana.
She said her son-in-law, an asphalt contractor, made contact with the
51-year-old Bay Area sports hero earlier this year.
Montana, who lives in Contra Costa County, has dabbled in numerous business ventures over the years, including winemaking and real estate.
"It was an absolute pleasure to do business with him," Karen Duke said. "You're dealing with a man of integrity first class, all the way. It's nice to have someone like him who cares about what's going on in the community."
She would not say what the property sold for, but the last reported assessed value of the property was about $1.5 million, according to city records.