Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Empress Theatre Construction Resumes

Empress Theatre Construction Resumes
Company Aims to Break Ground on the First of New Buildings in April
By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

After a year of delays, Vallejo's downtown developer plans to resume construction on remodeling Virginia Street's Empress Theatre, officials said this week.

In April, just across the street, Triad Communities expects to break ground on a new six-story building, the first in a series of buildings planned downtown. And the company soon plans to renovate a Georgia Street building as its new downtown office.

All the work is part of Triad Communities' plans to revamp the downtown. Once reopened, the old theater will attract more visitors to the aging district, while the new building will include 150 condominiums to bring in more residents.

And the move to 236 Georgia St. will show just how committed Triad is to restoring a dozen square city blocks downtown, Vice President Len Johnson said Thursday.

"It's really a commitment to the downtown," Johnson said. "We're real boosters for the downtown."

Triad, however, will keep its main office at the Hiddenbrooke Golf Club. That's where the company got its start in Vallejo, developing the Hiddenbrooke residential community in 1998.

The move will put Triad employees closer to a Virginia Street site the company is developing with builder D.R. Horton. In April, workers are scheduled to begin work on the six-story building with housing over ground-level stores and underground parking, officials said.

This month, Triad plans to resume work on renovating the Empress Theatre. The project was delayed for a year after workers realized they didn't have enough money to finish the $2.8 million publicly funded venture.

Triad officials said they hope to reopen the old movie house by year's end, then the theater can help draw more people downtown to energize the area.

Elsewhere in Solano County, Triad is working on a master-planned community at Vacaville's Lagoon Valley. At Fairfield's Allan Witt Park, the company is developing such mixed uses as housing and retail.

In Napa County, the company is in talks to develop a project with Pacific Union College, officials said. Triad also is examining development opportunities in Yolo County, officials said.

The company's success is its ability to find a balance between various interests, Johnson said.

"We've had some real successes and we've figured out how to pursue these projects in a way that's meaningful for both the community and financial realities," Johnson said. "The combination of those two things is a pretty good combination."

While some developers have faced plenty of opposition in pitching projects, Triad has gathered more support in Vallejo.

For example, a group of residents has filed suit against a proposed waterfront renewal, while another group has apparently qualified a voter referendum to overturn a proposed housing development at Bordoni Ranch.

Triad listens to the community, Councilmember Stephanie Gomes said.

"They've done a good plan and it got approved quickly," Gomes said. "That's a reflection of the good work they've put into it."

Triad tries to find a balance between economics, the environment and social equity, creating housing for varying levels of income, Triad's Johansen said.

"We call them the three Es," Johansen said. "We believe that's the future of growth."

Debbie Rojas, owner of downtown's Georgia Street Grill, said she's looking forward to seeing Triad fix up the downtown. She said it's worth putting up with the inconvenience of construction if the area will get new life from more housing and entertainment.

"Overall, obviously, the end result is what we're looking at," Rojas said. "The growing pains we have to look through."

For now, it seems Triad is only focusing on this region for development opportunities.

"We like the north Bay Area because we feel it has the potential for sustainability better than other areas," Executive Vice President Curt Johansen said. "We are growing."

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