Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Touro to Develop Mare Island North End

Touro to Develop Mare Island North End
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

A university village on Mare Island's north end.
That's what Touro University and a consortium of developers plan to propose to the Vallejo City Council in about a week, city and university officials said Monday. Little can be revealed about the group or its plans until the proposal is official, they said.

Vallejo's community development director Craig Whittom said Lennar Mare Island, the island's main developer and Touro, its anchor tenant, have been working since June on ways to develop the island's north end. He said that though Touro has recently partnered with outside developers; city staff still thinks the university should work with Lennar. Lennar's exclusive right to negotiate the island's north end development expired in April, he said.

Several weeks ago, Touro officials said they were putting together their own team to develop the area independently, Whittom said.

Touro vice president Richard Hassel said he couldn't yet disclose the reason Touro turned to other partners.

Lennar has already developed much of 650 acres, mostly with homes and businesses on the island's east side. It wants to transform 191 more in the north between Hwy. 37 and G Street to the north and south, and the Napa River and Azuar Drive to the east and west.

Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian said Lennar officials question the wherewithal and expertise of any other developers and the wisdom of selecting anyone new.

"The north island is one of 10 parcels needing to go through early transfer process from the Navy and Lennar is one of very few developers in the country that has successfully negotiated this process," Keadjian said. A snag in that process could delay the transfer of other parcels, he added. Plus, the development of Mare Island's north end is so complicated and expensive that it's best to leave it to the experts, he said.

"Lennar is in the best position to implement the reuse of Mare Island," Keadjian said. "We also believe having a single developer and master plan for the whole island is more efficient. And we continue to believe the best course is cooperation between the entities."

Hassel said the group's plan includes student housing and more, but declined to give specifics. An economic impact study to be released today shows Touro generates millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs annually. Its officials hope to increase both, he said. (See related story on A1.)

"It's what was promised 10 years ago - jobs and sales tax related to the resources we have," he said.

With some city officials reportedly frustrated with the pace of business development on Mare Island, there is hope a new developer might shake things up. Vallejo City Councilman Tom Bartee said several businesses have tried and failed to locate or relocate on Mare Island without success. A small container ship-building enterprise, for instance, has been trying for several years to find a home there, as has a multi-million dollar bio-tech firm. Touro wants to partner with the biotech company, Coeur Scientific, Inc., Hassel said.

"This is exactly the kind of business we're looking at possibly for the north end," Bartee said, though he declined to provide further details.

Hassel described the Touro entity as "a group of private, well-known developers" with "very exciting ideas" for the island.

"It's a huge turning point in the economic recovery of the area," Hassel said. "The idea is to create a university village. This is neat stuff. Just what our community needs to take it to the next level."

City Council member Stephanie Gomes said she is aware of a new entity vying for the right to develop Mare Island's north end, though she said she couldn't disclose details.

"I like the idea of mixing it up with developers out there," she said.

If approved, the Touro group will be the fourth developer to take on revamping Mare Island's north end. Lincoln Property Company signed a deal to do it in 1998, but withdrew in 2002. A team of Weston Solutions and Harvest Properties in 2003 began negotiations for the project but backed out about a year and a half later.

-- E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at RachelZ@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6824.

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