Monday, August 29, 2005

Vacaville's Nut Tree's future sparkles with mix of new and old

Article Launched: 08/28/2005 07:59:15 AM

True Renewal
Nut Tree's future sparkles with mix of new and old

The vision is a new landmark, a new Nut Tree. And unlike past figments, this one looks, tastes and feels real.

On Thursday, more than 250 folks listened to the speeches, watched the ceremonial golden shovels turn rich Vacaville soil and tasted some of the vestiges of the fabled Nut Tree, once the roadside landmark that put Vacaville on the map.

Developers, financiers, politicians, city officials, and nostalgic Vacaville residents and former residents - including some from the Power family that once reigned over the Nut Tree associates - saw firsthand what Mayor Len Augustine called the "future of Vacaville."

And as the mayor said, the $200 million project will make all other redevelopment programs in Vacaville pale in comparison.

A long, arduous - and at times contentious - expedition has brought the private and public sectors together to launch a rebirth on the city's pre-eminent piece of real estate along Interstate 80.

If it finishes as planned, it will be a testament to the true mission of redevelopment. It will create jobs, commerce, entertainment and a multitude of public benefits - revenue to hire police officers, fix roads, maintain parks and much more.

Perhaps just as important, it will re-establish a reputation. Vacaville once again will be the place along Interstate 80 between the Golden Gate and the shores of Lake Tahoe for travelers to pause and enjoy.

An open-air pavilion set aside bocce ball courts will complement a family amusement park with roller coaster and the legendary Nut Tree miniature train. Nearby will be a 380,000-square-foot retail and restaurant hub. The look and feel of it all, if it finishes as planned, will be like nothing else between San Francisco Bay and Emerald Bay.

A hint of skepticism is understandable, given the number of false starts experienced since the family-owned Nut Tree closed in 1996. In the past decade, the pretenders have come and gone. Hope has swelled and then collapsed as all the talk failed to muster a genuine revitalization plan.

The team in place today is different, to be sure. Snell & Co., Westrust Ventures and Rockwood Capital Corp. comprise a solid catalyst with a shared vision of what is to come.

Every bit as critical is a City Council - past and present - and a city management group committed to making the project success, but not without quality control and protection of the taxpayers' financial and social interests.

There were plenty roadblocks and hurdles that had to be cleared before the shovels turned the dirt Thursday not far from where cherub-faced kids would lick pumpkin ice cream atop a sugar cone. City leaders are to be commended. Former Mayor David Fleming and current Mayor Augustine led councils with bold, resolute members who stood up to the naysayers and the wags who criticized the partnership. Because without the city's determination there was no way to ensure the next Nut Tree would be more than the mundane freeway fare.

The disposition of Nut Tree Retail LLC is a healthy one - for the investors and for the city of Vacaville.

City management remains a partner, but also an overseer. It will be facilitator, but also enforcer of the high standards promised.

Late next year, Roger Snell says he will revel when he presides over the ribbon cutting of the first phase of the project, for the new Nut Tree will mix the best of the old with the exciting possibilities of the future.

If it finishes as planned, so will we.

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