Pleasant Hill

  • Contra Costa Times
  • October 1, 1989
  • Ken Maryanski

Real downtown to be realized if built

Watch out, Walnut Creek and Concord – there finally may be a there here.

For 15 years, people have talked about giving Pleasant Hill a real downtown – an identity for one of Central County’s most inconspicuous cities. Just talked.

But now this quiet suburban city of 30,000 people finally is on the verge of getting a one-of-a-kind hot spot, with new shops, restaurants, a movie theater and other attraction, city officials and developers say.

“Walnut Creek and Concord have gotten all the attention, and Pleasant Hill is kind of sitting in the middle all forgotten,” says developer J. David Martin.

“As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, ‘There is no there there.’”

His Emeryville-based company, The Martin Group, and Bortolaso America Inc. in Pleasant Hill hope to begin this summer redeveloping 42 acres between Boyd and Cleaveland roads, Gregory Lane and Interstate 680.

Says Mayor John Mulhall, “It’s not a question of if it’s going to come about, it’s a question of when. I’m fairly confident it’s going to come about this time.”

Blend of suburbs and cities

The city crafted its first downtown redevelopment plan in 1974, but negotiations with developers never got serious, said Mulhall. A new plan focusing on offices was devised in 1983, but it was gutted by Measure B, the 1986 initiative that set building height limits, said redevelopment director Richard Bottarini.

Officials revived the effort a year ago, picking Bortolaso and Martin from among seven developers submitting proposals. To help architects devise a new plan just for Pleasant Hill, the city held numerous public meetings and Martin’s firm studied downtowns across the country.

The idea is to blend the best of suburbia – easy parking, freeway access – with the best big cities – housing, shops, offices and night life all concentrated on one location, says Martin.

The exact mix of development still is being worked out, says Polli. Tentative plans call for about 1 million square feet of retail and office space – mostly retail, says Bottarini. Buildings would be one or two stories, in keeping with measure B.

About 150 housing units, a movie theater and possibly a hotel also are planned. Restaurants would surround the theater in a central European-style plaza complete with a new two-lane main street, public art and fountains.

“It’s a little nit of ‘Back to the Future’ here,” Martin says of the pedestrian-oriented plaza. “We’re building a downtown of the 1940s with the conveniences of the 1990s/”

City officials say the downtown would serve the people of Pleasant Hill. “It’s not a shopping mall – it’s a heart of the city, a gathering point.” says Councilwoman Sherry Sterrett.

And it would not cost taxpayers an extra dim, officials say. The city would pay only for parking garages it wants instead of flat lots. It could pay for that with new taxes the project would generate.

The city hopes to complete soon a document guiding downtown development and will hold public hearings on it. It also needs to finish negotiating a development agreement with The Martin Group and Bortolaso.

If construction starts this summer, Pleasant Hill could have a new downtown in 1992, says Martin.