Sunday, March 04, 2007

Amusement park adds extra dimension to Nut Tree Village and keeps history alive

Amusement park adds extra dimension to Nut Tree Village and keeps history alive

Developers redo roadside icon

East Bay Business Times - February 23, 2007

by Jessica Saunders

The family park at Nut Tree Village.

What was a roadside eatery known to generations of travelers is being re-established as a mixed-use development with big-box stores, specialty shops, restaurants, a hotel and housing.

Nut Tree Village.

The founders of the original Nut Tree would not recognize the site today, which is being transformed into a $100 million mixed-use development with shops, hotels, office space and town homes. Yet elements of the once world-famous roadside attraction remain.

Seven anchor tenants - Best Buy, Sport Chalet, Borders, Old Navy, PetSmart, HomeGoods and BevMo - are open at the new Nut Tree Village, a joint venture between Westrust of San Francisco, Snell & Co. of Larkspur and Rockwood Capital, and leases have been signed with other tenants ranging from Panera Bread and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue to Citibank, Justice Just for Girls clothier and Peet's Coffee & Tea.

Retail developer Westrust has leased about 85 percent of the 332,000 square feet of retail and office space, said Ricardo Capretta, managing partner for Northern California. The first phase's grand opening is planned for early summer, although parts are open now.

"We are really proud of the results. It's not an ordinary retail project. A lot of effort and detail went into it," he said.

Much of that effort had to do with commemorating the original Nut Tree, while at the same time making the best possible use of 2,400 linear feet of frontage on heavily traveled Interstate 80. In keeping with the roadside-attraction tradition, Westrust created an 18,000-square-foot market pavilion - larger than the 8,000 square feet requested by the city of Vacaville - that will feature local and Bay Area specialty food companies such as Mariani Packing Co. and Fentons Creamery. The pavilion opens in April.

Another feature is the 3.7-acre family amusement park, which sits on the other side of the pavilion from the parking lot and opened last fall. It includes the original Nut Tree steam train, a carousel, seven other rides and replicas of the wooden hobby horses ridden by generations of children. The park also has picnic tables, indoor party space and a garden with benches, as well as the white-columned 1907 farmhouse where it all began, shifted about 1,000 feet from its original site. The Vacaville Museum plans to restore the house and display original Nut Tree memorabilia and other artifacts.

Motorists traveling Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe stopped at the original Nut Tree for generations to enjoy its renowned dining room; visit the toy store, bakery and candy store; and let road-weary kids burn off energy riding wooden hobby horses and the miniature railroad.

The one-time roadside attraction eventually merited its own airport and post office, complete with ZIP code. The Nut Tree was one of Solano County's top five employers from the 1970s until it closed in 1996 because of internal ownership struggles.

The next phases of planned development include two hotels - one with a 20,000-square-foot conference center - 140,000 square feet of office space and 180 town homes.



Business: Real estate development
Headquarters: San Francisco
Founded: 1992
Managing Partner, Northern California: Ricardo Capretta
Employees: 48 2006 Development Value: $461 million
Address: 580 California St., Suite 1700, San Francisco 94104
Phone: 415-489-1700
Web: www.westrust.

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