Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Touro & the North End of Mare Island

Last night Touro gave a presentation of their proposed cancer treatment center and associated research and education facilities, student housing and hotel and retail center. The project is beautifully designed, and the uses were grouped into different areas of the project site in a way that really made sense. This project stands to be one of the best opportunities Vallejo has had in a long time. The cancer treatment center will be a catalyst for other commercial, medical, and retail opportunities (like a bookstore and healthy foods market) that will be a great long-term revenue source for the city.

One aspect of the plan that I'd like to look into (other than the financial feasibility) is the purpose and size of the retail area along the Highway 37 corridor. The specific plan only allowed for a small amount of square feet of retail. Because of this restriction, this large parcel of land was over-dominated by surface parking and an underwhelming amount of retail space. I'd like to increase the amount of allowable retail space. The Touro team said that the intent of the retail area was to serve the island and Vallejo residents. As this area lies along Highway 37, we should try and capture some of the many travelers along that corridor. So hopefully we can increase the amount of retail space and gear it towards both Mare Island and Vallejo residents, as well as Highway 37 travelers.

I was surprised to hear that Siemens was no longer Touro's partner on the cancer treatment facility. They were originally providing the heavy-ion accelerator system technology. (According to Touro, the accelerators produce a beam that destroys the ability of cancer cells to replicate. It's similar to X-ray radiation therapy but more powerful and more precise.) Touro officials explained that the new technology they are pursuing is better and even more cutting edge than Siemens'

I asked a question about the Alco Iron & Metal company that is in operation on the north end of the island. They want to expand their operation, and some members of the public have asked me if they would be willing to move their operation to the industrial section of the island, freeing the north end area for additional commercial/retail opportunities. From a land use perspective, this makes sense – you want to group land uses that are compatible with one another.

I spoke to Alco's general manager today to ask if they've talked about that possibility. I was told that they had already invested several million dollars into their infrastructure on the north end of the island, and it didn't make financial sense for them to move. That's completely understandable. Alco is an established business that provides good jobs and revenue to the city. They've made their investment already, and we'll make Touro's project work with the existing use.

Overall, I have to say that this is an exciting project. While the general economy is definitely not well right now, according to Touro the health care and education fields are somewhat immune. So if all goes well, they could break ground early next year. Forward progress is happening.