Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Residential housing to anchor Mare Island renaissance

By Chris G. Denina/Times-Herald, Vallejo

Mare Island's about to get a whole lot busier.

In October, developer Lennar Mare Island LLC plans to begin marketing houses on Vallejo's former military base. By 2005, families could once again call Mare Island home.

Lennar also hopes plenty of people will move into about 1,400 homes, including apartments, houses and townhomes planned for the former shipyard, once home to thousands of military personnel and their families.

"I think it's the beginning of an exciting time," said Ken Zadwick, president of the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation.

The nonprofit group, which offers tours of Mare Island, expects tourism will pick up as people move in and others learn about the former shipyard. And business will pick up as more open shop to serve those residents, he said.

"When you drive around Mare Island, you get the feeling there's more businesses all the time," Zadwick said. "The homes will bring a lot more activity."

More than 1,600 jobs have been created on Mare Island, and more than 70 businesses have set up shop there, according to Lennar.

The company envisions even more growth - as many as 8,000 jobs and countless more businesses covering 7 million square feet of commercial space.

Those figures are a far cry from when the Navy closed the shipyard in 1996.

"It was tough economically here in Vallejo," said Dan Donahue, a former two-term Vallejo City Council member. He was on the council in 1995 when the Navy notified the city it was leaving Vallejo.

Military families living on Mare Island moved out. Other Vallejo residents left town.

Many businesses also closed shop after the Navy left. The city drew up plans to reuse the base. And Lennar was named the city's master developer to renew Mare Island.

Today, much work has been done in areas including environmental cleanup, developing new homes and establishing modern infrastructure on the 150-year-old base, said Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian.

"I think today we are witnessing the fruits of the community's labor and the renaissance of Mare Island," Keadjian said.

Other groups also are looking toward the future.

Weston Solutions Inc. is developing dredge ponds on Mare Island's west side. Weston also teamed with Harvest Properties to renew Mare Island's north end, attracting more businesses to that area.

Touro University, a medical school in former Navy buildings, hopes to one day grow its campus and build new structures.

The park foundation, which gives tours of Mare Island, hopes to open a naval museum this month.

Lennar hopes the museum will serve as an attraction to Mare Island's historic core - an older section of the former shipyard where Lennar hopes to create a promenade filled with ships and restaurants.

"I think we're just at the beginning of the big growth," the foundation's Zadwick said.

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