Wednesday, December 07, 2005

2006 Could be Big for Rio Vista

2006 Could be Big for Rio Vista
By Jeff Mitchell

Jim Holland and Kim Agamaite fish on a public dock in front of the Rio Vista City Hall, which may get a new marina. (Mike McCoy/Daily Republic photos)

RIO VISTA - In this sleepy river town of 6,800 residents, not much happens.

And, honestly, a lot of the folks who live here like it that way.

But starting next year, two projects are expected to get under way that will likely change the way the city looks and feels well into the future.

As new residential housing projects like the Trilogy project on the city's west side bring more and more people to Rio Vista, the city's ability to continue providing essential public services to its burgeoning population becomes harder and harder.

The answer, ultimately, is to increase revenues to the city's general fund through economic development, City Manager Brad Baxter said.

And boy, does Baxter have two whoppers in mind for 2006.

A massive lab facility

The first project involves the reuse of the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Beach Drive immediately south of the city.

The 28-acre former military facility, turned over to the city in 2003 after going through an 8-year toxics cleanup, has been earmarked to become a massive laboratory facility for the California Department of Water Resources, the CalFed Bay-Delta program and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Other water districts with an interest in the Delta may sign up for office space in the complex. The massive Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has been named as one possible tenant.

The CalFed program is a combined state and federal multi-billion dollar effort that's charged with managing the preservation of the Delta region - a watershed that provides drinking water to 22 million state residents.

"We think the impact this facility will have on the city will be amazing," Baxter said. "Moreover, the lab will make for a good fit for Rio Vista. Our livelihood and our quality of life depends on the health of the Delta. Having the people who are responsible for that right here makes a lot of sense to me."

The facility, which also may contain a governmental conference center and some athletic fields, is expected to employ several hundred people, many in management positions and who hold post-graduate or doctoral level degrees.

Baxter said the city now holds a formal letter of intent from the state Department of Water Resources and expects to complete a development "memorandum of understanding" with the agency in the first quarter of 2006.

Marina or waterfront mall?

The second big thing expected to take shape next year will be the development of either a small-craft marina designed to handle several hundred vessels and which will feature upscale hotels, restaurants and some kind of entertainment venue or an upscale waterfront shopping facility - depending on who you talk with.

Unlike the former Army site, the marina project will involve the acquisition of several privately owned parcels stretching from the foot of the Highway 12 bridge west to the start of the city proper.

Because the project area is in a city redevelopment zone, the purchase of the land would likely involve some kind of public-private financing partnership, Baxter said.

He declined to name the developer or developers currently exploring the project but said both the marina and the Army Reserve site projects will likely come before the City Council in the first half of 2006.

Getting 'buy-in'

But Baxter - with artists' renderings of the marina project in hand - agreed that either form of the project will help generate the revenues the city needs to better serve a steadily growing residential population.

But as the two multi-million dollar projects move forward, the struggle will be to get "buy-in" on the part of the town's longtime residents.

He's already got the support of the town's business community.

"Right now, the waterfront is in a sad state of affairs," said Barry Waldie, a longtime Rio Vistan, local real estate broker and a member of the town's chamber of commerce board of directors.

"I can tell you this - the business community is overwhelmingly in support of any development on our waterfront. We need it. It's long overdue," Waldie said.

But Mayor Eddie Woodruff said the city will approach both projects with a level of sensitivity that's designed to engage those longtime Rio Vistans who are enamored with the town's "Mayberry-esque" culture.

"I think 2006 will prove to be a very big year for us. It's very important that we get as much support as we can muster from those who have been here the longest," Woodruff said. "Their support will be critical to our success."

Reach Jeff Mitchell at 427-6977 or

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