HAYWARD -- A developer has ambitious plans for the former Mervyns site that has sat vacant on Foothill Boulevard since the company declared bankruptcy in 2008, and one thing those plans don't include is the massive Mervyns building.
As part of a vision to convert the site into a 570-unit residential development, Newport Beach-based Integral Communities would raze the 335,000-square-foot structure -- built in 1957 as an Emporium-Capwell department store -- and wrap four stories of upscale housing around the existing parking garage.
More units would sit atop the current parking lot, stretching all the way to the gas station at Hazel Avenue. A corner of the project would include about 10,000 square feet of retail space at City Center Drive.
Developers stressed that the housing would consist of luxury rental units that would bring in "well-educated, professional" residents with annual incomes approaching six figures.
Previous ideas for the site involved keeping the structure and converting it into retail space, but Evan Knapp of Integral Communities said the building has "sat vacant for a little too long," indicating that fate is not in the cards.
"There's a ton of vacant retail space nearby, and bringing more retail is not the right answer," Knapp said. "Our site is going to give the retail space that's already here a boost."
Mayor Michael Sweeney said he has heard that said in the past without the promised payoff, and he does not believe residential units are what's needed at what he called a "prime retail and commercial site."
"I think most Hayward residents and businesses would like to see more and better quality shopping opportunities for residents," he said.
Housing is easier to build than a commercial site, he said, but "sometimes you have to be strong enough to wait for what the community wants to see."
Nearby business owners are generally supportive of the housing plan.
"Something there is better than nothing there," said Jay Sharma, who has worked at neighboring World Gas since before Mervyns went under. "We used to have a lot more customers," he said. "It would definitely be a benefit for us and other businesses."
Elie Goldstein of Kraski's Nutrition speculated that people would again frequent his shop as they walked downtown, as Mervyns employees used to do.
"Who knows? They might stop in to buy a vitamin," he said.
Goldstein said he has concerns that the site might not bring in the residents needed to make it a success, pointing to vacancies at condominiums across the street along City Center Drive.
And residents of the nearby Prospect Hill neighborhood are wary of what the project would bring if it does fill up, with worries that it might not end up being as upscale as promised and in any case would bring additional traffic to the area.
"That's just way too big," said Bruce Caires, who has lived in Hayward since 1979. "That many units is ridiculous. They're going to be cutting over to Mission right in front of my house."
City planner Sara Buizer said traffic and parking issues are among the aspects of the project that will be examined by staff members as it moves through the permitting process.
Integral Communities is funding the $150 million development and has an option to buy the site, but representatives would not divulge the asking price. Last time it was sold, in 2010, it went for $5.65 million -- a far cry from the $42.7 million that it once appraised for.
Knapp said they hope to take it to the city for public hearings in the summer, break ground in 12 to 18 months and have it built a year after that.