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In Transition: Transit Village still a work in progress

on October 12, 2009

Phil Youngholm doesn’t regret buying a home in the Richmond Transit Village, but so far the new location hasn’t lived up to his expectations.

When Youngholm purchased his three-bedroom townhouse in 2004, he envisioned living in a new kind of pedestrian-friendly community. With BART and Amtrak stations a few steps from his door, he could easily take public transportation to San Francisco or Sacramento. He and his partner could grab a bite to eat and run errands on foot without leaving the village. The park nearby was nice for walking the dogs they adopted soon after moving in.

Five years later, Youngholm, now 61 and semi-retired, is waiting for his vision to become a reality. It has nearly been a decade since the city broke ground on this 16.7-acre development project, which is aimed at helping revitalize downtown, an economically depressed area.

But while portions of the Transit Village, a partnership between the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, BART and The Olson Company, have been completed, core elements – retail shops, in particular ­– remain in limbo.

“I’d hate for Richmond to lose its funky character completely, but I’d like to have it be a safe place so I don’t need a dog with me at night,” Youngholm said. “And a place with a few things to do.”

The Metro Walk portion of the village where Youngholm lives, on the west side of the Richmond BART station, is the part that’s finished. It was completed in 2006, and includes 132 units and an elevated Nevin Avenue walkway that connects the BART and Amtrak stations with downtown. Improvements to the west side of the station and a station building have been completed as well.

Much of the project, though, is still in the works. Approximately 7,000 square feet of Metro Walk retail space has been available for months. The construction of a $34 million parking garage with 9,000 feet of retail space is planned for 2010, followed by more homes and more retail space on the east side of the station.

While the final product is years away from completion, the city still sees the project as a key part of the downtown revitalization plan.

“It’s one of the higher-priority projects,” said project manager Michael Williams of the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, “because it’s a commercial development with new homes established in the downtown area at market rate, and it includes new retail space.”

Richmond Transit Village resident Phil Youngholm sits on a bench in front of Metro Walk units with his two dogs.

 Phil Youngholm enjoys some afternoon sun with his dogs in front of Metro Walk units.

The project was divided into two phases. Phase I includes the completed Metro Walk section, retail space and station building, as well as the planned five-story parking garage.

Phase II involves the construction of 99 units on the east side of the station, an elevated Nevin Avenue walkway to match the one on the west side, and 10,750 feet of retail space.

Phase II can’t begin until the garage is constructed because the land planned for Phase II is currently the east BART parking lot.

Williams said construction of the garage could begin as soon as January and will take around 18-20 months to construct. Phase II can begin soon after the garage is completed.

Some of the Metro Walk residents are skeptical about more retail being added to an area that already has unoccupied space. Three Metro Walk retail spaces are currently on the market, two on Marina Way at the edge of the walkway and one at the foot of BART.

“Those should have been anything by now, like, I don’t know, a shoe store,” said Lonnie Webb, 36, who bought his unit in 2004. “But at the same time, I’d hate to see a business come here and not work.”

Cushman & Wakefield, the broker handling the Metro Walk retail spaces, declined comment. Williams said the downturn in the economy is partly to blame for the lack of retail tenants, and that prospective tenants could be waiting for the garage to be completed.

There is at least one business interested in the space, though.

Brian Drayton, executive director of Richmond Spokes, a non-profit organization that trains youth in bicycle service and repair, has been eyeing the space near BART for a bike shop and café. He believes the price has dropped near his range.
“It’s one of the only times a nonprofit like mine has an opportunity like this,” he said.

Brian Drayton, executive director of Richmond Spokes, is interested in leasing retail space at the Transit Village.

Brian Drayton, executive director of Richmond Spokes, hopes to lease retail space at the Transit Village.

Drayton is raising funds to lease the space, and did not want to divulge his bid. He has included a picture of the space in a pamphlet he distributes about Richmond Spokes. He said the Transit Village is the ideal spot for his business.

As a couple of dozen people walk up from the station and down the Metro Walk during rush hour on a late September afternoon, Drayton gestured to them and smiled

“This is the foot traffic I want,” he said. “What you’re seeing is what we want to multiply.”

|Transit Village Map

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