WALNUT CREEK -- Where once stood reams of newsprint and ink drums, there may soon be hoops and hard courts.
Mark Hall, developer and owner of the former Contra Costa Times facility in Walnut Creek's Shadelands Business Park, is hoping to turn a portion of the once-churning publishing facility into indoor basketball courts for kids. Hall bought the Times property nearly a year ago.
Hall Equities Group has signed a 40,000-square-foot lease with a youth basketball league for a portion of the old plant, which sits on 14 acres.
Dubbed the Shadelands Indoor Sports Park, a variety of youth sports operators -- from aquatics to gymnastics -- have inquired about having such a facility because it's an ideal fit, said Hall, CEO of Hall Equities Group.
"They need large spaces, economically priced ... with high ceilings," he said. "There is obvious and large community-based demand. The (Contra Costa Times) property is probably the only asset in the entire region that meets this criteria."
Hall leased the space to a company called Ultimate Basketball Fieldhouse, formed to finance and operate a youth basketball facility for both the ASA Basketball program and the Flight Elite Youth Basketball program. Officials with those organizations did not respond to requests for comment in time.
Also involved in financing the venture is Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness and one of the owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA team, Hall said.
But there is as bit of a hiccup -- such sports facilities are not yet permitted on the property. Hall Equities filed an application with the city asking for an amendment to the zoning at the site to include "commercial recreation and sports usage" at 2640 Shadelands Drive.
That application details the proposed project complete with year-round courts, not just for basketball but soccer and volleyball, too.
Gyms and health clubs are already allowed in the Shadelands, and Hall doesn't see sports uses as that different. Plus, he argues that the business park needs reinvention.
"The office market is dying a slow death in the Shadelands and has been for 25 years," he said. "The city does not want residential uses in the middle of the park, although that would be feasible."
Some estimates have vacancy in the business park as high as 50 percent. Recently, the City Council approved a retail and housing project in the Shadelands on 25 acres owned by Safeway at the corner of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove Roads -- a sign to many that new uses may be considered in the park.
During those discussions, city leaders pointed out Shadelands' troubles, though a lot of their focus has been on revitalization as a business park.
"It is a job center, and we need to strengthen that business park so that all of us and future generations can actually go to work in the community in which we live," said Councilwoman Cindy Silva at the June 17 council meeting.
Hall said the former Times space is so large that more than one business will be operating on the site. A well-known Walnut Creek developer behind projects such as the Oakland Children's Hospital center and Animal Rescue Foundation in Shadelands, Hall said the old newspaper warehouses are ideal for sports.
"The sports facility will be in peak demand use in the evenings and weekends when things are pretty quiet out there, so it is a nice use from a standpoint of not being in conflict with anything else," Hall said.
Steve Buckley, planning manger for Walnut Creek, said the application will require review by the Planning Commission and City Council because it's a change to the zoning ordinance. City planners are currently evaluating and formulating a recommendation, he said.
Hall says that once the city approves, he could open the courts as quickly as three months.
Even if sports facilities are OK'd, land remains that is primed for redevelopment at the site. What else will be built there or how the former newspaper offices will be used, Hall is not yet saying. But it will have separate access from the sports uses, he said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.