A Shade in the Right Direction
May 18, 2019 04:02PM
● By Cale Finta
A SHADE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
The renaissance of a business park
By Peggy Spear
Photography by Jon Milavec and Sarah Grunder
Longtime Contra Costa resident Steve Montoya sips a beer and reminisces about the days when he used to pick walnuts in Shadelands Business Park. Chamber of Commerce CEO Jay Hoyer remembers when parents used the empty roads to teach their kids how to drive. And most locals remember when the business park sported a 40 percent vacancy rate and a collection of empty buildings.
Today Shadelands is transforming into a community hub—as seen best by the lively atmosphere at Calicraft TapRoom on Mitchell Drive. Here young parents sip beer while their children frolic on the lawn, dotted with Adirondack chairs filled with medical professionals, softball players, and teachers. “We’re seeing a new life, an office life, an active life, and most importantly, a communal life,” says Blaine Landberg, owner of the popular tap room. Landberg plans to expand CaliCraft’s footprint by adding bocce courts and an outdoor theater, all solar powered.
A couple of blocks away, a similar scene is unfolding at Mike Hess Brewing in The Orchards shopping center where customers gather around a firepit to watch sports events on the big screen outdoor TV. Nearby, people stream into the row of restaurants for a quick meal—or to carryout food to one of the tap rooms. Burger Lounge, California Fish Grill, Jack’sUrban Eats, and Mod Pizza are among the fast-casual, grab-and-go dining options.
As vibrant as the Shadelands has become over the past five years, the crown jewel of the park’s renaissance, the ShadelandsSports Mall, opens this summer in the cavernous space that once housed the venerable Contra Costa Times. When completed, the 285,000-square-foot sports facility spread over 11-acres, will be a sports complex like no other, anywhere in the United States. In fact, if the vision of developer and CEO Mark Hall of Hall Equities Group is realized, the Sports Mall will become the anchor of a lifestyle community in the Shadelands.
Hall, who owns 44-acres of Shadelands property, completed Phase One in 2016 with the opening of the Ultimate Fieldhouse, a premiere basketball training facility that has hosted the likes of Steph Curry, who runs youth camps there. But it’s Phase Two that will become the heart of the Sports Mall, and maybe even Shadelands itself.
Hall’s high-tech, 105,000-square-foot COPA Soccer Training Center with its massive indoor turf and futsal fields, is the centerpiece of the Sports Mall which also boasts Encore Gymnastics, American Swim Academy, Mike Murphy Baseball, Vibe Volleyball, Sparta Taekwondo, Raga Yoga, Genius Juicery, and the administrative offices for Walnut Creek Soccer Club as tenants.
Hall is currently eyeing a couple of locations for a hotel and a parking structure with a pedestrian bridge to the Sports Mall as well as an onsite eatery. Outdoor community performance venues are also planned to highlight the work of students at nearby Contra Costa School for the Performing Arts (CCSPA).
Adjacent to the mall, construction has begun on Trellis, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility designed to complement the medical services already available in the park at Kaiser, Bass, John Muir Orthopedics, and UC Benioff Children’s Hospital. And a block away behind the new Safeway, Sequoia Living is developing Viamonte, an upscale, amenity-rich, 200-unit senior community offering independent and assisted living, as well as memory care.
Keeping the community rooted in its rich agrarian past, the UC Master Garden thrives on the corner of Shadelands Drive and Wiget Lane. The public garden is maintained by expert volunteers who offer public demonstrations and donate all the food they grow to local non-profits.
On the corner of Mitchell and Oak Grove, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) recently broke ground on its innovative Pets and Vets Center. The new 7,893-square-foot facility will allow veteran-dog teams to gather, learn, train, and socialize. It will also double as a national training venue for service dogs and partner with shelters across the nation.
Soccer is the star attraction at the mega sports center where state-of-the-art technology will help young athletes achieve maximum physical and mental potential. “We’ve designed a sports facility where the focus is not on league and tourney play, but rather on training and skills development,” says Hall. “There’s not a lot of data that comes out of soccer, not like baseball. This will help us quantitatively analyze the sport and the players.”
During international reconnaissance trips for the Sports Mall, Hall developed a passion for soccer which culminated in the purchase of two professional United Soccer League (USL) teams. “Soccer is the biggest sport in the world and the largest spectator event on earth,” he says, “It bridges nationalities, ethnic groups, and religions – it’s all encompassing and it’s enthralling.” Currently, Hall is working with the City of Concord to develop a soccer complex near the Concord BART station, with stadium seating for 18,000 fans. He’s also kicking off a youth Academy team to compete with top teams throughout the west, including the San Jose Earthquakes youth players. “We are providing a path for professional play,” Hall says. “But we’re also teaching basic skills.”
Hall sees youth athletics as the next big wave in consumer activity. As large retailers close at indoor shopping malls around the country, opportunities exist to fill the large gaps with sports training centers like the Shadelands Sports Mall.
Shadelands tenants we talked to for this story view the Sports Mall and other development as a boon for the community. Neil McChesney, Director of CCSPA says, “We’re enjoying the renaissance here,” adding that his 450-student performing arts school will soon grow to 750-students, graduating its first class this spring. “Shadelands was here and no one knew what to do with it,” says Calicraft’s Lundberg. “With forward thinking by the Chamber and by the City of Walnut Creek, it was rezoned to meet the needs of people living in the northeast area of Walnut Creek.”
And even if they don’t live nearby, Jay Hoyer points to the free Shadelands Shuttle, which runs a loop up Oak Grove to the Pleasant Hill BART station and transports 100,000 riders a year. The city and the Shadelands Property Improvement District (PBID) are now looking at other transportation options, like walking, biking and scooter – yes scooter – paths.
The biggest stamp of approval comes from the business owners, says attorney Angela De La Housaye, chair of the PBID. A recent survey resulted in an almost 90 percent approval rating. “They are very enthusiastic,” she says. And De La Housaye is excited about the vacancy rate at 19.7 percent.
Issues remain at the business park. Not everyone is crazy about how the Orchards turned out, especially the public art on the corner of Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley Road. The deep water-collecting planters scattered throughout the shopping center’s parking lot have proven very dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. Then there is the lack of a full-service restaurant with a wait staff at the Orchards, something that was promised in initial discussions with neighbors.Of course, traffic presents a challenge, always a constant in Walnut Creek. Hoyer says city officials are talking about calming mechanisms on Mitchell Avenue, and potentially Shadelands Drive. But for now, residents can watch history in the making as the old walnut orchard and the lonely business park transforms into its own vibrant community.