SANTA CLARA -- City leaders leaped at the chance to dance with a developer on plans for a large-scale project near the new stadium, in what some called a risk-free way to flirt with seeing a longtime vision for Santa Clara come to fruition.
That vision, of an entertainment complex near the stadium and convention center that would draw outsiders and give residents a destination spot to eat and be entertained without leaving town, is in its most nascent stages but Tuesday night the City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement that got the ball rolling.
If all goes well, the new 49ers stadium will have what supporters call a "first-class destination" as a neighbor, with shops, restaurants, entertainment and housing in a development that some see as akin to a supersized Santana Row.
Developer Bill Witte said it's too early to call it that, but stressed that his company is interested in finding out what's wanted and needed in the area.
"We try to approach every opportunity by looking at what the situation calls for," said Witte, president of Related California. "We try to learn as much as we can from both the market point of view and the local needs point of view then try to respond with a plan that meets those needs."
Public speakers overwhelmingly supported the plan, with a common lamentation that there is a dearth of activities in Santa Clara that forces residents to seek entertainment elsewhere.
"When we'd walk the precincts we heard the same things," said former councilman Kevin Moore. "'We want more entertainment, more restaurants, more things to do here. We don't want to drive 15 or 20 miles to do it.'
Related California is an affiliate of Related Companies, a major developer that has done previous projects including the Time Warner Center in New York and CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Florida. City council members spoke highly of the company, as did Rob Mezzetti, an attorney representing Joe Montana. Montana is involved in another development near the stadium that would bring in an upscale restaurant, luxury hotel and sports bar.
"We can really vouch for these guys," Mezzetti said. "We broke bread with them, they're real people and we fully support the project."
Mezzetti added that it would be a great boon to the city and its residents, saying that "if getting the stadium built was a home run, this would be a grand slam."
The city-owned properties in question sit on 230 acres -- five times the size of San Jose's Santana Row and 10 times larger than the new stadium site.
The proposal is aligned with the city's strategic plan adopted last month, which identified "promotion and enhancement of economic and housing development" as one of four goals. A city report states that it "will further the city's goals of providing an economic stimulus for the businesses in the city's entertainment district and bring much needed tax revenue to the city."
The agreement means the developer will put down a $200,000 deposit to enter into 18 months of negotiations with the city, with options to extend it for another year. During that time, Related California will analyze the physical condition of the property, access and utility needs as well as address what kind of lease will be considered for each parcel.
Key issues include whether parts of the property can be built up, as portions sit on a former garbage dump. The developer also will look into relocating existing recreational uses at the site, namely the Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club and a BMX track, and agreed to set aside $25,000 for city consultants to analyze such options.
The developer would also be responsible for completing an environmental review of impacts from the project, and would need to come back to the city with details on the scope of the plan within 180 days.
"This is the type of developer we want to work with," said Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor. "They're asking us what we want to see there. To have such a massive amount of property in the center of Silicon Valley is very rare -- to be able to look at it and master plan it for what we want to see for our citizens is really a dream come true."
Councilman Jerry Marsalli also called it a dream, but one that goes back 40 years. He said that the creation of the golf course at the site was a "stopgap" measure -- not necessarily meant to be a permanent fixture.
"The golf course has reached the end of its time, and now it's time for the next phase of Santa Clara's growth to take place," he said.
The idea that a developer is willing to come in and pay for analysis and planning of the site and not ask for public subsidies -- particularly in the post redevelopment age -- appealed to the council.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for Santa Clara to dream at no cost with some of the finest developers in the nation," said Mayor Jamie Matthews.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.