The 35-acre New Town Center in Hercules, Calif., midway between Napa and San Francisco, is an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment plan that, when completed, would include more than 1,000 housing units, 375,000 square feet of retail space, 190,000 square feet of office space, and a transit hub for which the city and the federal government have pledged $100 million. The “when,” though, is still up in the air, as the first phase of this project, known as Market Town, is on hold until economic conditions improve.
Tom Weigel, co-founder of Newport Beach-based The Red Barn Co., which is the New Town Center’s developer with the City of Hercules Redevelopment Agency, says the first phase might not begin for several years. So his company, in cooperation with the city of Hercules, has come up with an innovative, if temporary, land-use solution: “Market Hall,” a moveable retail, entertainment and gathering place on three acres of phase one's 6.62 acres.
Weigel describes Market Hall (on the site of an old park-and-ride lot) as “an appetizer plate,” for the town, with several components. There’s the Main Hall structure, an open-air market for local food vendors, which includes a covered dining area. (Market Hall will also be the new home for the Hercules Certified Farmers Market.)
There's also a shopping “district,” where arts and crafts vendors sell products out of 160-square-foot shipping containers and airstream trailers converted for this purpose. Weigel explains that these “stores” had to be temporary because the town wouldn’t allow the installation of sewer or water. These vendors are mostly people who have been selling their wares online or at flea markets and were interested in an in-person venue that was also a little more upscale.
All of this leads into an entertainment area with a coffee shop (in a container), a Great Lawn (a stretch of Astroturf with a stage), and a playground with bocce ball courts. The city has committed to use this event facility (which includes about 130 parking spaces) for its main activities, such as its Fourth of July celebrations and its Christmas tree.
Weigel admits that Red Barn would never have gone this route had the economy been stronger. (The value of the first phase alone is estimated at $130 million, with investment capital needs of $100 million.) However, Weigel also suggests that once construction starts on phase one, Market Hall might be sustained by relocating it to a lot adjacent to New Town Center.
About half of land being used for Market Hall is a dirt lot that Red Barn is currently marketing for a complex that would have 200 rental apartments. (Phase one of this project calls for a 200-unit apartment complex and 80 condos over retail.) Weigel says the housing units within Market Hall would be rentals for a decade, and then converted to for-sale units.
Weigel couldn’t say precisely when the 17-acre phase two (which alone calls for 600 attached housing units) and 11-acre phase three might get started. “Those two phases are more dependent on public participation,” he says. The city of Hercules is building an off ramp for a road that will go through these phases, whose combined estimated value is north of $700 million and investment capitalization is around $400 million.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.