The owner of Bridges, the popular fine-dining restaurant in downtown Danville, plans to convert part of a park-like area next to the restaurant into a new retail space, town of Danville planners said this week.

Bridges' managers would not confirm rumors that a portion of the proposed 2,300-square-foot building would be used for a wine store and wine-sipping room. Some Danville residents have speculated that a wine store would make a nice amenity for the upscale fusion restaurant.

But Bridges owner Randy Negi said, "There's nothing definitive yet about what's going in there. It's still all pretty preliminary."

Negi leases space for Bridges from Ryota Sugitani, an out-of-state developer who also owns the adjacent, tree-lined parcel where the retail store is planned. It will ultimately be up to Sugitani to choose a tenant for the store, Negi said.

Since Bridges opened about 15 years ago, members of the public have been free to enjoy the restaurant's small, peaceful private grounds at Hartz Avenue and Church Street --downtown's only tract resembling park space. A right-to-pass plaque welcomes visitors, who on hot days can be found resting on wooden benches under a canopy of trees or stealing shade under one of the park's Eastern-inspired arbors.

Much of the area will be cleared to make way for the new retail building, said Danville project planner Catarina Kidd. The blueprints, which the town's design board reviewed earlier this month, call for some trees and landscaping to be transplanted to create a smaller garden with benches and arbors facing Hartz Avenue, she added.

"The way the park is now, it's not really set up so you feel like you can sit in there. There's benches, but they're kind of concealed by shrubbery and not visible from the street," said Kidd.

The proposed retail space is consistent with the town of Danville's efforts during the past two years to phase out offices and other nonretail businesses in favor of more stores and restaurants on Hartz Avenue.

Retailers in the core downtown area are not required to purchase parking spaces. Instead, business owners pay the town for parking exemptions which allow their customers to park on public streets and in one of several municipal parking lots nearby.

To encourage property owners to develop more retail, Danville leaders in 2006 instituted a three-year waiver on the $2,500 in-lieu-of-parking fee normally required of new retail businesses downtown. If the planning commission approves the new retail store, Bridges' owner will receive the parking fee waiver and will not be required to buy additional parking spots, said Danville chief of planning Kevin Gailey.

Both Bridges and its sister restaurant, Amber, offer valet parking. The two neighboring businesses share a private 14-space parking lot in front of Bridges. Valets also have full use of the adjacent free municipal parking lot located behind Town Hall and Village Theatre.

Still, on busy days customers' cars spill onto Hartz Avenue or get parked illegally in the lots of neighboring businesses, sometimes drawing complaints.

Kidd said the relatively small retail store likely would not exacerbate existing traffic and parking problems downtown.

The Planning Commission will review the project July 10.

In regard to the loss of the open space next to Bridges, Gailey said, "It's nice to have that green spot downtown. It really defined Church Street. But other than that, we want that retail presence along that corridor. New buildings, new retail on the ground floor -- that's what we want to see."

Jeanine Benca covers Danville and Alamo. Reach her at jbenca@cctimes.com or 925-847-2125.