Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Vallejo Approves Downtown Financing

Vallejo Approves Downtown Financing
By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

Triad Downtown Vallejo LP plans to begin construction of a new high-rise on the city owned parking lot at Virginia and Marin streets. Photo: J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald

You need to spend money to make money, and Vallejo's downtown is no exception.

City officials Tuesday gave preliminary approval to spending $6.1 million on such public improvements downtown as diagonal parking and sidewalk benches, and on marketing efforts to lure businesses into the area.

"The whole point of making this investment is that so other people will buy these units in the downtown and invest their own private capital," City Councilmember Gary Cloutier said. "That's why we want to spend this money, so that other people will spend their own money in the downtown and the downtown then will be revitalized."

City officials last year OK'd Triad Downtown Vallejo LLC's plans to revamp a dozen square city blocks. But only now have city officials formally committed money to its end of the deal to make the area more pedestrian-friendly by widening sidewalks and narrowing streets.

The Vallejo City Council, also acting as the Vallejo Redevelopment Agency board, approved financial pacts between the city, agency and Triad, outlining everyone's share of the expenses.

The vote was unanimous, of the four council members allowed to vote. Three disqualified themselves because they either lived, worked or owned property in the downtown.

The city expects to spend about $4.7 million, and the agency about $1.4 million, on redesigning and rebuilding streets, marketing the area to businesses and creating a new special tax district for property owners.

Triad will be reimbursed by as much as about $652,000 for its expenses related to buying a city-owned Virginia Street parking lot to develop a high-rise project.

"I'm not unaware that this is a large amount and that it is a big investment by the city in its downtown, that the stakes are high and there is risk," Mayor Tony Intintoli Jr. said. "But it's a risk worth taking."

Ed Buck of Vallejo said the city already has handed Triad millions to restore the Virginia Street's Empress Theatre as a performing arts center.

"When are they going to start giving something?" Buck asked the council.

Triad expects construction to begin in May on the Virginia Street project, the first of a series of downtown high-rises of condominiums over stores and restaurants, officials said.

Last month, the company resumed construction on the Empress Theatre after work was postponed because of financial issues. Officials expect to wrap work by year's end and open the old movie house as a performing arts center early next year, said Len Johnson, Triad's downtown project director.

"A lot's happening," Johnson said in an interview. "I think in two years from now, it'll be quite a different area down there."

City and development officials envision the Empress Theatre will draw people from around the Bay Area to such events as plays and films.

After viewing a performance, visitors can cross the street and eat at restaurants on the ground floor of the new six-story Virginia Street building. Residents of the new high-rise, meanwhile, can simply see a show, grab dinner then walk upstairs to go home.

"It's going to be quite exciting," Johnson said before the council meeting.

The Triad project is good for business, since it should bring more people downtown, said Bill Richerson, who works at Georgia Street's Vallejo Antiques.

"We need to do something," Richerson said in an interview. "There's nothing here to really draw people."

The council was supposed to vote on the downtown financial agreements last week, but only three council members were qualified to vote.

Councilmember Tony Pearsall was absent. Council members Tom Bartee, Gerald Davis and Stephanie Gomes recused themselves because of conflicts of interest: Bartee owns a downtown business, while Davis owns property there and Gomes lives in the project area.

Pearsall voted Tuesday, though Hal Boex, who lost his bid for City Council last year, raised concerns during the meeting over

Pearsall's past dealings with Triad and asked if he would recuse himself from the vote. Pearsall did not respond to the comments during the meeting.

In 2003, before Pearsall won office, a Triad official said his company bought Pearsall and his wife's previous home to get them to drop a council appeal against a Triad housing project. Pearsall denied any quid pro quo.

Interim Vallejo City Manager John P. Thompson also left the room during the discussion Tuesday because he is a former Triad consultant.

- E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

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