WALNUT CREEK -- The city will, over the next six months, study ways to reverse the trend of increasing commercial vacancies in the Shadelands Business Park area.
Mayor Cindy Silva, who said she worked in the Shadelands Business Park from 1993 to 2001, said change is long overdue.
"We are looking to reinvigorate the Shadelands Business Park as a business park for a professional, medical and manufacturing high-tech research focus so that it can compete more effectively with Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton and Bishop Ranch in San Ramon," Silva said.
While Councilwoman Kristina Lawson agreed the business park is in dire need of change, she suggested Walnut Creek shouldn't necessarily look to Pleasanton and San Ramon for inspiration.
"I wouldn't encourage us necessarily to look at our competition as an example of what we want this to be," Lawson said. "(Shadelands) won't be Hacienda Business Park and it won't be Bishop Ranch business park, because it's not located close to the freeway. Let's look at what we can do vis-a-vis its location if we want to keep it as a business park."
Lawson called for the formation of a "property based improvement district" for the Shadelands area, something downtown business owners are also considering at the moment. It would assess parcels money that could be spent on marketing, economic development, special events and the like.
Shadelands would be a perfect place for such an improvement district, Lawson said, with its 42.8 percent vacancy rate, according to documents circulated by some local brokers earlier this week.
"That is ridiculously high, particularly in a city like Walnut Creek, where a retail vacancy rate downtown is one of the best vacancy rates in the entire state. the vacancy rate out there is disturbing and trending in the wrong direction," Lawson said.
One major issue discussed was the lack of convenient transportation to the business park for workers. Several speakers at Tuesday's council meeting said that until there are better transportation options to the business park, it will continue to lose businesses. One option discussed was a dedicated shuttle from BART downtown to the business park.
"The shuttle service is something that we are thinking about, we are undertaking a survey with the property owners right now to look at their travel patterns," said city Planning Manager Steve Buckley.
Councilman Justin Wedel was concerned about city funding for the shuttle, but City Manager Ken Nordhoff said there might be a way to fund it privately.
Another issue discussed was the lack of food establishments within the business park.
The park was developed in the 1970s. It comprises about 245 acres with about 50 separate owners. It's a traditional business park, with ample parking and good landscaping. In total, Buckley said, there are about 2.6 million square feet of office space in the business park, a large chunk of the approximately 8 to 9 million square feet of office space in Walnut Creek.
"Some of the buildings are reaching the end of their useful life," Buckley said. "There's some functional obsolescence, and market obsolescence going on here."
Buckley agreed with Silva and Lawson that the park faces a challenge given its distance from the freeway.
"As an office park it seems to be just too far from the freeway to accommodate certain users," said Buckley. "But there may be other users that might be interested."
Buckley said there will be a study session with the Planning Commission in May.