WALNUT CREEK -- A city-owned parcel in the struggling Shadelands Business Park is not on the market, but it's apparently a hot commodity and may soon be for sale -- for the right price, of course.
That price isn't known yet, but the idea of the sale has area developers claiming city leaders are acting unfairly, with two claiming they were discouraged from building a surgery center on another Shadelands parcel.
Walnut Creek seems to be getting an offer it can't refuse from Muir Orthopedic Specialists, which wants to expand its existing Shadelands facility. Muir wants to build a $15 million to $20 million diagnostic, surgery and rehabilitation center next to its current facility. That space, on the corner of Ygnacio Valley Road and North Wiget Lane, is occupied by the city's Civic Arts Education campus. If allowed to buy the corner parcel, Muir Orthopedic would more than double its presence in Shadelands.
"So the fact that Muir Orthopedic is expansion-prone, willing to invest millions and hire for 150 well-paying jobs is a real economic benefit and an opportunity," city Economic Development Manager Ron Gerber said on Tuesday.
But if the city sells its 4.6 acres at 111 and 175 North Wiget Lane, the various uses already there -- most of the city's Civic Arts programs, as well as a nursery and the county's master garden -- will need new homes.
Seeing no offer or business plan and packing lots of questions, Councilmen Bob Simmons and Justin Wedel said at a special City Council meeting Tuesday they're against the Muir proposal.
"We have no plan whatsoever for (Civic Arts Education) uses ... that is just not rational decision-making as far as I can see," Simmons said.
But a council majority gave city staff the go-ahead to look into selling the land and finding a new home for the arts programs, garden and nursery.
Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson said the city should make money off the deal.
"I don't think there is any reason not to consider selling the property," she said. "My only parameter ... is that there should be no net cost to the city whatsoever; not for the relocation, not for the new building and not for any expansion we see as part of this."
The city's arts program provides 700 classes and serves 7,000 students annually. Many of the arts classes were housed in Civic Park for years, until most moved to the Shadelands property in 2006. The plan was for all arts classes to eventually be in Shadelands.
Muir Orthopedic would build a medical facility on the northern end of the property where modular buildings, the nursery and garden reside. And then in a second phase, Muir will buy the Civic Arts Education building and construct another facility. No price was discussed at the meeting beyond Gerber's assertion that the city would get "several million dollars."
The medical provider is a victim of its own success, with orthopedic surgery a booming business.
"One of the reasons we are pushing this is we are just packed in that facility," said Dr. Ramiro Miranda with Muir Orthopedic. "Last year we operated on people from 14 different states."
City staff had proposed Civic Arts to be placed in the yet-to-be-approved Safeway project at the corner of Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley Roads in the Shadelands park. But that suggestion was a non-starter not only for the council but for neighbors of the Safeway project, who balked at the idea of giving up open space for more buildings.
Some developers in Shadelands say they were told by city staff that a surgical center like Muir's would not be allowed in the business park. Eugene McGrane, a broker with Cushman Wakefield, said he had a client poised to purchase the Contra Costa Times building but the deal fell apart once city staff weighed in.
Community Development Director Sandra Meyer said that prospective buyer came to the city with a use that would have been classified as a skilled nursing facility, which isn't allowed under the business park's zoning. Allowing it would have required a general plan amendment.
"At that time we did discourage that, but we said it was not our decision ... it would be a council decision," she said.
What Muir is proposing would likely be different because the center is for its patients and may not need a general plan amendment, Meyer said. The surgery portion of the business, Miranda said, would be kept in Muir's existing adjacent building.
Developer Mark Hall, who ended up buying the Times property, said he too has been discouraged from building a surgery center on the site. In a letter to the council and in comments he made Tuesday, Hall said the city trying to hamper private development and take a project for itself "reeks of hypocrisy and unfairness."
He also asked the council to open the bidding for the city-owned Shadelands parcel. Hall sold Muir Orthopedic its current site, and a developer could conceivably build the new medical offices and sell it to Muir or other interested parties.
"If the city is going to take this approach I think it needs to be open bidding on the city's land," he said. "You should allow the market to determine these prices and the market to determine what your options are."
Council members agreed that if the property is put up for sale that it would be available through open bidding.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.