Monday, March 13, 2006

Redevlopment Cooking

Redevlopment Cooking
Project is a Dream for Restaurateur
By Tom Hall, Amanda Janis and Jason Massad/Staff Writers

This artist's rendering shows the restaurant local restaurateur Joe Murdaca is hoping to build. It would be called Don Carmello's Bistro. (Courtesy rendering)

Three intertwined redevelopment projects scattered around Vacaville's downtown finally may be closer to blossoming after years of fruitless negotiation.

A three-part landmark endeavor called the "Scattered Site Commercial Project" links proposals for an upscale Italian bistro, a county welfare building, and a municipal parking lot on Dobbins Street with an adjacent office building.

All would be developed by local restaurateur Joe Murdaca, who plans to invest at least $8 million.

Don Carmello's Bistro, a long-held dream of Murdaca's, would be at the southeast corner of Dobbins Street and East Monte Vista Avenue, joining a burgeoning downtown redevelopment effort.

But that dream has been on hold for more than two years as Murdaca, the city and the county try to come to terms on a lease rate

Joe Murdaca, owner and chef of Pietro's restaurant, prepares soup at a cooking class in November at Nugget Markets in Vacaville. He's planning to invest in a land project. (Joel Rosenbaum/Reporter file)

for a 30,000-square-foot county welfare building on Brown Street - a linchpin of the project Murdaca has called "the deal maker."

The lease rate quibble could amount to a difference of $1.6 million through the course of a 10-year lease. For now the deal teeters, while county and city officials argue over the minutiae of price-per-square foot on the building.

"We feel the only way we can assess if this is going to happen is if we get an appraisal everyone can agree on," said Vacaville City Manager David Van Kirk.

The project has a long history. In August 2002, city and county officials came to an unprecedented deal wherein the city agreed to absorb several hundred low-income housing units the county otherwise would have been required to build. In exchange, the county promised to bring a building to a redevelopment site in Vacaville that would house its local CalWorks and mental health services under one roof.

In 2003, the city chose Murdaca as the developer for the redevelopment project. In January 2004, the deal stalled partly because of the complex nature of the arrangement, each party viewing the project in a different light.

The city believes that each piece of the puzzle is vital in the effort to redevelop downtown and make county-provided social services available to all Vacaville residents.

The county feels it has been asked to pay too much to lease the Brown Street building and by doing so may be subsidizing the other portions of the deal.

From the business end, Murdaca wants to offset the risk of the ambitious downtown bistro through the office buildings. Stephen Power, a local developer representing Murdaca, said the restaurateur remains hopeful despite the numerous hold-ups.

"We're spending a lot of time on it weekly. It's getting regular attention from all the parties involved," he said.

Despite their continued efforts, there's no evidence that the parties are any closer to coming to an agreement on a lease rate.

The first appraisal, performed by a firm approved by all three parties, concluded the county should pay Murdaca $2.60 per square foot per month, according to a county document.

But that appraisal didn't please county officials, who instead hired their own appraiser, Van Kirk said.

On March 2, a letter addressed to Murdaca and Van Kirk and signed by County Administrator Michael Johnson instead offered $2.15 per square foot.

The difference may not sound like much but it equates to $1.6 million during a 10-year lease for the 30,000-square-foot building.

County spokesman Andy Kotch admitted the county has been in no rush to sign a deal.

"This isn't outside of the window that we had set for the completion of the project," Kotch said.

Van Kirk agreed the complex nature of the negotiations provided for a slower process, but said he had been confident the pieces would be in place by now.

"It is a complicated deal but I don't think it should have taken this long," the city manager said.

Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine said he's also concerned the county building won't provide all the services it should to help meet the needs of local residents. Vallejo and Fairfield have many more county services offered than the north county, he said.

"I don't want it done in a way that fills the square but doesn't meet the needs of the community," Augustine said.

Tom Hall can be reached at
Amanda Janis can be reached at
Jason Massad can be reached at

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