What is going on with Hilltop Mall?
on November 15, 2023
Twenty years ago, the Hilltop Mall was the place to be in Richmond. It was a bustling shopping area full of life, and around this time of the year, it would have been extra busy with holiday shoppers. Today, the mall is vacant and isolated, stores are empty and dark, with only Walmart open.
But Hilltop’s owner says the site has a promising future providing three things Richmond needs: employment opportunities, retail space and mixed-use housing.
Prologis, an industrial real estate company based in San Francisco, bought the 78-acre mall property in 2021 and has a big plan for its redevelopment that includes data centers and retail space, as well as such amenities as bikeways, pedestrian paths and a transportation hub, said Samidha Thakral, vice president and investment officer at Prologis. For the housing portion, the allowable residential density at the mall site is a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 135 dwelling units per acre. Thakral said Prologis’ plan includes for-sale townhomes, apartments, duplexes and single-family homes.
Richmond Planning Commission
What: Study session for Hilltop Horizon
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: City Council Chambers, City Hall
In the meantime, the city has been working on its own vision for the property that includes many of the same elements. Both Prologis and the city say the dialogue between them has been open.
Lina Velasco, Richmond community development director, said she does not anticipate Prologis submitting a project application until the city has adopted the site plan. This could delay development at the mall for about five years.
After holding community workshops and surveys, the Planning Commission expects to conduct a study session Thursday to craft a preferred land use plan by the end of this year, Velasco said. This will be presented to the council early next year for guidance, direction and approval, after which the council will hold public hearings about the plan.
“Our goal here as city staff is to make sure that we present a project that reflects community priorities,” Velasco said.
Bhavin Khatri, president of the Hilltop District Neighbourhood Council, said the community wants to make sure that there’s more retail and entertainment, and open space and parks. “So that’s what the current plan is,” he said.
What the community doesn’t want are warehouses and distribution centers. That’s what residents feared when the property was purchased by Prologis, which boasts on its website of developing the “largest collection of high-quality logistics real estate in the world.”
Prologis has met and listened to residents, said Arto Rintella, president of the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council. The company also realized it would have a zoning fight to turn the property into a distribution hub, he said.
While Rintella acknowledged that the city needs more affordable housing, he also said, “There are concerns about when people come to Richmond and there are not many places to go.”
In an email to Richmond Confidential, Prologis said the next step is to work with the city on putting a plan in place. Prologis said it brought on Signature Development Group to help with the mixed use plan. Signature’s projects include Brooklyn Basin on Oakland’s waterfront, The Hive District in downtown Oakland and Willow Village with Meta in Menlo Park.
“We’re excited about what the future of Hilltop could be and look forward to working with neighbors and City leaders to create a more detailed plan in the coming months,” the email said.
Community engagements have been underway “to re-envision the future of the defunct mall,” Thakral said. For Prologis to start redevelopment, it will need approval from the City Council. Thakral said the company will work on the applications in tandem with the specific plan to not lose critical time in starting redevelopment.
During the second community workshop, held on Nov. 1, residents expressed the need to see development within the next five years. In an online survey conducted during the workshop, 65% of the respondents said they do not want warehousing and distribution centers at the mall site, while 57% said they favored retail development.
Several people said they were worried that if the zoning was not restricted, the property owner could do whatever it wants. The city and Prologis will have to follow certain guidelines, said Beverly Choi, a program manager with ESA, the city’s consultant on the project.
Velasco said the project is an opportunity for the city to meet its housing goals, after a Contra Costa County grand jury found that it failed to meet its housing targets of 2,424 units between 2015 and 2023. Hilltop is identified as a high-priority development area and is anticipated for future employment and housing, Velasco said. “So we see it being a key development area for realizing our housing needs,” she said.
Many people live in the Hilltop area, and they need more retail outlets, Khatri said. “It is essential that we get the opportunity for people to shop local, especially for the residents that live and work here.”
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