Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Touro University Reveals M.I. Plan

Touro University Reveals M.I. Plan
School Assembles 'Dream Team' to Design North End of Island
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

The two entities vying for a slice of the Mare Island redevelopment pie may be on a collision course.

One entity, homebuilder Lennar Mare Island, has a long track record on the former naval shipyard site. On the other, Touro University has assembled a "dream team" to turn Mare Island's north end into a sort of Berkeley-esque village.

The Touro plan, revealed Thursday, includes high-tech jobs, educational opportunities, a community cultural center and an international trade zone.

The proposal, to be presented at Tuesday's Vallejo City Council meeting, also includes affordable student and faculty housing, retail stores, research facilities and parkland, in an atmosphere designed to rival university towns like Davis, Stanford and Berkeley, said Touro vice president Dick Hassel.

"This is a major turning point for the community," Hassel said. "And it's a long time coming."

The original Mare Island reuse plan called for its north end to be developed first, to include light industry, commercial and retail as an economic generator to help fund the rest of the redevelopment, Hassel said. That vision hasn't materialized.

"It was supposed to generate state tax revenues to help Vallejo recover after the loss of shipyard jobs," Hassel said. "But for one reason or another, we've had three developers that haven't done it. I think it's one of the major causes of the city's economic problems."

Touro's plan, developed by a "dream team" of developers, environmental cleanup experts and others, has a "central theme," and that, Hassel said, will make this one succeed where others haven't.

"The theme is using the community's resources to make things happen. To create a university village that's synergistic to the educational theme of the community," Hassel said.

The idea is to make Touro - one of California's four medical schools - a community hub that attracts businesses and institutions with which it is compatible, Hassel said.

"There are investors and firms lined up to get involved with this," he said. A cancer treatment technology firm, an FDA certification testing firm, a pharmaceutical group and others are among those waiting for the go-ahead, he said. The green light is predicated on Touro being granted the exclusive right to negotiate the area's redevelopment. Hassel said he couldn't reveal details about specific firms.

Touro and its partners, which include firms that would ensure the development is "environmentally and ergonomically friendly," believe it's logical to make Mare Island a destination along Solano County's growing medical and high-tech corridor.

"Touro's founder and president, Dr. Bernard Lander, was in Vallejo in June and met with the mayor and others, and told them Touro is a permanent member of the community of Vallejo, and is prepared to make a huge investment in the city's future," Hassel said.

The project's projected cost is between a quarter to a half billion dollars, he added.

One plan feature is a 50,000 square foot community and cultural center just off Highway 37's Mare Island exit. It would "create a visual gateway to Vallejo and make a statement that Vallejo is a university town," Hassel said.

The plan also calls for a trade zone to promote international commerce and give Vallejo special tax incentives, Hassel said.

"It will be an immediate revenue generator," he said.

Vallejo Mayor Anthony Intintoli, Jr., who said he hasn't thoroughly reviewed the proposal, added the city still hopes to find a way for the Touro group to partner with Lennar Mare Island, the island's main developer.

"As far as I recall, the idea is to work with the two applicants for developing the north end of Mare Island, and get them to work together," Intintoli said. "To my knowledge, that's still the direction."

That doesn't appear likely, since Touro's consortium members don't feel the home building giant shares their vision for the island, Hassel said.

"If you want to turn the north end of the island into another residential community, then Lennar is the developer for you," Hassel said. "If you want jobs and sales tax revenues as called for in the original reuse plan, then it's time for a change. This is the right time and the right place."

Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian said Lennar officials can't comment on Touro's plan because they haven't seen it.

"To date, Touro has not provided us with a copy of their proposal," Keadjian said.

City Councilman Tom Bartee said he hasn't had a chance to review the plan's details, either, but from what he's heard, it "looks interesting." He's willing to hear the Touro group out.

Interim City Manager John Thompson said he, too, finds the Touro group's concepts "interesting," and the assembled team "impressive." Concerns remain, however, he said. He also reiterated the city's desire to see the Touro group work with Lennar.

"We're still analyzing it, but it has a lot of potential," he said of the Touro concept. "We have concerns about their environmental cleanup capacity, where the funding is coming from, and we're concerned we not jeopardize the progress of the early transfer of the land from the Navy."

Touro team members plan to address those concerns at Tuesday's meeting, Hassel said. No vote on the matter will likely be taken that day, Thompson said.

Touro University plans include:

- Developing 191-acres bordered by Highway 37, Mare Island Strait, G Street and Azuar Avenue.

- Creating a University Village and Research Park and associated private development including a pedestrian river walk, park and athletic fields. Protected wildlife habitat areas, classroom facilities, housing, associated research companies, a shopping area and other amenities will also be included.

- Creating the village and research park on 35 acres at the area's southwest end and the community cultural center on 15 acres on the north end. The rest of the 191 acres will combine private development and public amenities, including affordable housing for Touro students and staff.

Source: Touro University

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

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