Friday, October 07, 2005

Vacaville Officials, Project Managers Break Ground for First Phase of Nut Tree Redevelopment

Article Last Updated: Thursday, Aug 25, 2005 - 10:51:49 pm PDT

Heavy equipment is laying new utility pipes at the Nut Tree construction site off East Monte Vista Avenue in Vacaville. (Photo by Gary Goldsmith)

Vacaville Officials, Project Managers Break Ground for First Phase of Nut Tree Redevelopment
By Christine Cubé

VACAVILLE - The much-loved historic attraction and family entertainment park known as the Nut Tree began its road to revitalization Thursday as city officials and project developers broke ground for the massive redevelopment.

Guests for the ground-breaking ceremony drove through a winding trail of gravel roads before coming to a parking area near the boarded-up Harbison House, circa 1907. There, amid the buzz of construction, a scattering of tents and tables overflowed with fine food and catering. Ripe peaches sat in miniature Nut Tree wooden baskets for guests to take on their way out.

The energy at the ground-breaking event was clear: It was time to bring the Nut Tree back. Renderings of the new Nut Tree sat beneath the shade of trees as members of the business community, Vacaville government and county officials snacked on hors d'oeuvres, sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade.

"This is what put Vacaville on the map," Supervisor Mike Reagan said. "We have a chance to reinvent the concept and the sense of place (of the Nut Tree). Everyone knew about the Nut Tree."

The park closed in 1996 after more than seven decades in operation.

The first phase of the $200 million redevelopment includes shopping and dining, which will take place primarily at Nut Tree Village, a 380,000-square-foot open-air retail and office project. The retail portion of the project will take up roughly 320,000 square feet. Retail developer Westrust, which has offices in San Francisco, has already signed five major retail anchors for the development: Best Buy, Borders, PETsMART, Sport Chalet and HomeGoods.

The entertainment portion of the development - the Nut Tree Family Park - will feature a Bocce Grove, the original Nut Tree train, Harvest Express rollercoaster, Interstate 80 traffic bumper cars and other custom amusement rides.

"This is the future of the city of Vacaville," Mayor Len Augustine said.

Earl Parker, the city's public information officer and resident since 1993, remembered he used to take his children to the Nut Tree on his way from Sacramento to San Francisco.

"We're very excited," Parker said. "When we would drive to San Francisco, we would stop. Now maybe I can bring a grandkid - there's only 14 of them."

Nut Tree Associates, a joint venture between Rockwood Realty and Snell & Co., is the master land developer for the 80-acre project. Westrust is handling the retail development for 30 acres of the total space.

The first phase of the project involves moving the Harbison House, the original home of Nut Tree founders Helen and "Bunny" Powers, to the center of the Nut Tree Family Park. The house will feature memorabilia reflecting the history of the Nut Tree, once a unique stop not only by locals but also celebrities and visiting dignitaries to America. The first phase of the project is estimated to be complete by August 2006.

Subsequent phases of the project will include 120,000 square feet of office space, 180 townhomes, a limited-service hotel and a hotel and conference center. When the project is complete, the retail and entertainment components of the Nut Tree are expected to draw 3 million visitors a year.

Kevin English, partner with Premier Commercial in Fairfield, said the Nut Tree redevelopment is a great example of what happens when small communities and their government work together.

"With a lot of patience, a good vision and consistent local government policy, (it shows) good things will come to a town like Vacaville," English said.

Reach Christine Cubé at 427-6934 or

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