Monday, March 28, 2005

Fairfield Allan Witt Park project could meet economic, housing, safety goals

Article Launched: 03/27/2005 08:47:02 AM

Park Rebirth

Fairfield project could meet economic, housing, safety goals

What may be the most ambitious - and most complicated - partnership between public and private entities is headed into a critical phase in Fairfield as high hopes emerge for a new vision of the city's western gateway to Interstate 80.

City decision-makers, the business community and citizens in Fairfield are understandably drawn to the Allan Witt Park project, which now moves into a critical second phase. The city will launch a study of the impact of a proposed facelift to the city's West Texas Street portal, an exciting prospect that we believe must move forward.

Myriad questions remain. Is the project economically feasible? Can its many "moving parts" be aligned to ensure its success? Can it come to fruition with so many entities involved?
This thumbnail sketch shows the complexity of the Allan Witt Park project:

  • The current park site would be augmented with 10 to 13 acres of city-owned property now used as a city corporation yard and with the existing Caltrans maintenance yard that sits between the park and a shopping center to the west.
  • Between 400 and 500 new for-sale housing units would be built on the expanded site, providing a variety of choices for buyers - single-family homes, townhouses and so-called "stacked flats" or owner-occupied single-level units.
  • The park will have a new family aquatic center (similar to the Walter Graham Center in Vacaville), new tennis and basketball courts. It will incorporate the existing skatepark.
  • At least 35 acres of the existing park will be renovated to provide safer, user-friendly casual recreation - picnics, jogging, pickup softball and soccer games, kite flying and children play areas.
  • Existing fields for softball and Little League will move to a new sports complex at Cordelia and Chadbourne roads to be funded by the developer. This park will add fields for youth and adult sports programs.
  • About 55,000 square feet of new space will be created for small businesses, for live-work enterprises and other specialty shops that could cater to the nearby neighborhoods.
    The initiative is complicated because of the number of principals that are involved: the city, Caltrans, a private developer for the park, and a potential concessionaire to operate and maintain the new sports complex. The city has an ideal solution for Caltrans. It would move the existing facility to city-owned land off Red Top Road.
The city is negotiating with Triad Communities Inc., the same developer that is refurbishing and reinvigorating the Vallejo waterfront and proposing a unique project in a portion of Lagoon Valley, that would rejuvenate the city park in Fairfield.

The city hopes it can convince Big League Dreams, a premier developer and operator of amateur recreational sports facilities in the country, to become partners in the new sports complex. In effect, the vendor would operate the fields for youth baseball programs and adult softball teams. It would maintain the facility at no cost to taxpayers. The city would share in the revenue stream created by tournaments and special events.

Of course, Triad Communities would be responsible for building all of the public amenities in the new Allan Witt Park, including the aquatic center, jogging and walking paths, roadways and landscaping. It would blend with the existing skatepark. Triad would need to agree to a funding mechanism, such as a special district fee, to maintain it all.
There is a long way to go, as we noted. Many questions remain to be answered. Tough negotiations are ahead.

But dynamic benefit could result from its success.
Revitalizing the neighborhood would bring new residents and businesses. With so many eyes watching the park day and night, it would become a safer place to visit. Many residents who avoid the park because they deem it perilous would return and use it. And, of course, the recreational opportunities in a new Allan Witt Park and in a new sports complex would be welcomed.

As the process moves along, taxpayers should hold city negotiators accountable for the financial considerations - keep the project self-sufficient, ensure the new park can be maintained at a reasonable cost with the developer paying the lion's share and keep the uses for which there is no current fee free of charge.
Filling a portion of the region's housing needs, adding to its recreational opportunities, bolstering Fairfield's economic base and making the neighborhood safe again are eminent goals.

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