Friday, October 07, 2005

Article Last Updated: Friday, Aug 26, 2005 - 10:57:53 pm PDT

Developers have new vision for Old Town
By Ian Thompson

From left, Mike Rice, Kent Bourland and Frank Marinello want to develop the Main Street area in downtown Suisun City. (Photo by Gary Goldsmith)

SUISUN CITY - The men behind Main Street West Partners, the firm that wants to revitalize Old Town's economic fortunes, simply have to step out of Miller-Sorg's Kellogg Street office to walk their development sites.

The city hopes lead developers Mike Rice, president of Miller-Sorg, and Frank Marinello of Marinello Real Estate will bring in new retail and live-work developments to Suisun City's center.

Main Street West Partners recently submitted a market research document and has until October to complete site plans.

If the plans are feasible, Suisun City will likely approve an agreement with them to build on Redevelopment Agency-owned parcels in and around the Old Town, interim Redevelopment Director Al da Silva said.

Rice is a Vacaville native who relocated Miller-Sorg's offices to the Suisun City waterfront in 1998 and is responsible for the design and construction of several projects in town.

These have included two office commercial buildings, the Promenade project and a portion of the Harbor Village development. The Promenade live-work project on the city's waterfront has since been lauded as a smart growth development by a local land-use coalition.

When Rice heard about the city's plans to revive its campaign to redevelop the Main Street area, he called Frank Marinello.

Marinello had been the project manager and lead designer for Basin Street's redevelopment of the south side of Petaluma's downtown into a mixed-use theater district.

Rice considered Marinello a good fit for the city's Main Street West project because of his ability to "texture residential development with commercial development."

"I needed someone who was successful in downtown development and Petaluma was an excellent example of where we wanted to go," Rice said.

The Petaluma project was also very similar to what Suisun City was looking for. The area was once mainly home to antique shops, empty car lots and old warehouse buildings. Basin Street's owner, Matt White, once planned to tear down a historic auto showroom and garage, and replace it with a four-story hotel, but was stopped by the Petaluma City Council in 2000.

A group of determined Petaluma teens who wanted to bring a movie theater back to town got White interested in making another try.

White lined up several investors and pumped $10 million into building a theater complex and remodeling the auto garage to accommodate restaurants and retail stores.

Building the theater complex spurred more development. With backing from the city, Basin Street built a $100 million, seven-block redevelopment project that included 225 residences, and retail and office space.

"It has been a very well received project," said Paul Marangella, director of Petaluma's Economic Development Department. "It has done a lot to revitalize the downtown area."

Rice and Marinello were among 20 developers who initially responded to Suisun City's call for proposals and ended up with the exclusive negotiating agreement in June.

Marinello signed on with Main Street West Partners due to Rice's reputation for building good developments and the city's commitment to improving the downtown's economic future, and because the downtown already had the infrastructure in place.

"There is a lot of potential here," Marinello said of the Main Street area. "It is a great opportunity to finish out the private investment portion of downtown."

Rice and Marinello said it is too early to talk about the specifics of what will go into the downtown. They are presently working out what the overall architecture will look like and lining up potential tenants.

They have brought Kent Bourland of William Hazmalhalch Architects of Redding who already has done several projects in Rio Vista, Windsor and American Canyon, among other areas.

"All of the framework is here," Bourland said of the existing downtown. "We hope to craft the right mix of users. It just needs a little push to get it to the next level."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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