PLEASANT HILL -- Investors plan to completely rebuild the outdated DVC Plaza shopping center on Contra Costa Boulevard, injecting new life into the underutilized, prime retail location.

The project, which was hampered first by the recession and tepid recovery and then by the end of redevelopment, is part of a retail boom in the city.

In August, Merlone Geier Partners, a real estate investment firm with offices in San Francisco and San Diego, bought the shopping center that sits at the intersection of Contra Costa Boulevard and Chilpancingo Parkway.

"We bought the property because we feel it has a great potential," said Greg Geertsen, managing director of the firm. "It's very difficult to find 19 acres that you can completely start over on anywhere in the I-680 corridor."

Geertsen said the company is trying to sign two national retailers as anchor tenants for the shopping center, which lost Safeway and Kmart in the past few years. Despite abundant shopping in the area -- including Sunvalley Mall where the popular Nordstrom Rack opened last month -- Geertsen said consumer demand remains strong for clothing stores, restaurants, specialty grocers and drugstores.

Pleasant Hill has sought a mixed-use project for the property with shops and housing that could serve the needs of Diablo Valley College students. Geertsen said Merlone Geier is considering multiple scenarios for the property that may include housing. The company expects to submit a development application to the city within the next six months, he added.


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Sales tax dollars make up more than a third of Pleasant Hill's general fund revenue, so the city has used redevelopment, marketing and other programs to lure new businesses.

"Each incremental step in attracting new business investment in the city has continued to build on the successes that we are seeing now with the new retail tenants that are choosing to locate in the city," said Kelly Calhoun, Pleasant Hill economic development manager.

On the southern end of town, Corner Bakery and Zachary's Pizza opened this year in the 350,000-square-foot downtown shopping center. Although a deal with trendy grilled cheese restaurant The Melt fell through, center owner UBS is close to finalizing a lease for a second location for a Walnut Creek clothing boutique, according to Carl Pierce, director of asset management for UBS Realty Investors in San Francisco.

Four years ago the vacancy rate in the downtown was nearly 22 percent; today it's 3 percent, according to Pierce. In general, the company wants to fill the empty storefronts with high-quality tenants that have local name recognition. UBS also plans to spruce up the downtown area to make it look less like a generic strip mall and more like a "Main Street" with character, he said.

"Very soon you'll be seeing a lot of new landscape elements that I think people will like," Pierce said. "The center right now, although it looks great and it's doing very well, there are a lot of hard, cold surfaces and it needs more color and more soft surfaces."

Zachary's Pizza has thrived since opening in February, according to Kevin Suto, chief executive officer. Known for Chicago-style deep-dish pies, Zachary's has built a huge following in the Bay Area, and this is the first restaurant in central Contra Costa County. Suto said the company looked at spaces in Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.

"I found, actually, that one of the things that was attractive about Pleasant Hill compared to Walnut Creek is that the majority of the time it's more accessible during lunch, there's street parking down where we are," Suto said.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.