WALNUT CREEK -- Luxury condominiums complete with outdoor decks that overlook downtown, a park and Walnut Creek's very own "Spanish Steps" are the latest offering from a well-known local developer.
Mark Hall of Hall Equities Group is proposing 24 condominiums, plus restaurants and subterranean parking, at the corner of Botelho Street and California Boulevard -- continuing the trend of shifting people to Walnut Creek's downtown core.
Currently known as Centre Place South, this is actually phase two of a project that had its first phase completed a few years ago with the construction of the Charles Schwab office building -- as well as eateries like Yogurtland, Baja Fresh and Habit Burger -- at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and California.
"This is literally the last piece of the site," said Ethan Bindernagel, senior planner for Walnut Creek.
While an application has been filed with the city, the project is still in its infancy. No public meetings have been set up as city staff awaits more information from the Hall group, Bindernagel said. If Centre Place South goes forward, it will require City Council approval based on its proposed setbacks, Bindernagel said.
The proposed project would take out an outdated strip mall that used to be home to KFC and the former Baja Fresh in the west downtown adjacent to Alma Park. The condominiums, in a four-story building, would range in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet and have one, two and three bedrooms.
"These will be the very nicest condo units in the I-680 corridor -- and the most expensive," Hall said.
Though he did not want to disclose what the homes may sell for, his target buyers are empty-nesters.
Hall is also not ready to announce what businesses will be coming into the 20,000 square feet of commercial space planned in the two buildings. He said, however, he is close to a deal with a well-known high-end restaurant that will likely take up two floors. All of the commercial space likely will be filled by restaurants and cafes.
What is perhaps most interesting about this early plan is an extra-wide stairwell dubbed the "Spanish Steps" that, instead of leading to a historic church as they do in Rome, would ascend to the city's Alma Park. Hall proposes extending the park 125 feet from its current boundary and making it available from the street in a "graceful" and "gradual" way with the steps.
To do this, a second-floor concrete podium would be built and act as a sort of "living roof" with lawns, trees and pedestrian pathways -- essentially doubling the size of the park, Hall said.
He envisions a place where art could be displayed to draw visitors into the area.
While many new projects downtown are apartments, two relatively new condominium projects -- The Mercer on California Boulevard and 555 YVR on Ygnacio Valley Road -- couldn't sell all their units and were converted to apartments. Hall is confident that will not happen with Centre Place because there is a market for those who want large, one-story, high-end units like those he plans to offer.
Bringing more people downtown could help with the lack of parking that seems to scare off potential retailers in the historic downtown -- those stores north of Mt. Diablo Boulevard -- said John Cumbelich, owner of a Walnut Creek commercial real estate brokerage firm.
Because Walnut Creek doesn't currently have a lot of downtownresidents, projects such as apartments approved for 1500 California Blvd. o, Hall's Arroyo Way and Centre Place help bring more people downtown who don't need to park to shop and eat, he said.
"If we get several of those projects, that's going to help the historic downtown," he said.
A hurdle for this site will likely center around parking. Bindernagel said parking from the first phase of Centre Place must still be provided. Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.