An ongoing initiative of ULI, Technical Assistance Panels (TAPs) provide strategic advice on complex land use and real estate development issues for local clients, such as municipalities, public agencies, and non-profit developers. In late 2017, the City of Dublin reached out to ULI SF to assemble a multidisciplinary panel of experts who could aid in its efforts to initiate planning work for the community’s downtown district, asking the panel to provide “concrete and actionable” next steps.
Drawing from our seasoned professional membership base of 2,200, ULI SF composed a panel of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines reflecting diverse perspectives, including market analysis, land use and design, retail consulting, architecture, finance and development strategies, governance and policy and real estate development. TAP Panelists included:
- Bob Burke, Principle of Greenheart Land Company (Panel Chair)
- Christina Briggs, City of Fremont’s Deputy Director of Economic Development
- Christine Firstenberg, Principal at Retail Real Estate Resources
- Jane Lin, Partner at Urban Field Studio
- Ken Lowney, President and CEO of Lowney Architects
- Ben Sigman, Principal at Economic and Planning Systems
- Rae Smith, Senior Planner and Urban Designer at HOK (TAP Writer)
Dublin, California is a suburban city located to the south of San Ramon and north of Pleasanton in the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area and Tri-Valley region of Alameda County. Growing quickly, Dublin has nearly doubled its total population within the past ten years, expanding to approximately 60,000 residents. In 2011 Dublin went through an initial TAP process to get recommendations on ways to attract development and strategically invest in public improvements to the Downtown Dublin district. That TAP was successful in that the City implemented many of the panel’s recommendations over the next several years.
In late 2017, the City reached back out to ULI to ask another set of questions in order to enhance their retail district within the downtown and support the changes occurring in today’s retail and real estate development markets. Over a two-day working session, TAP panelists were asked to provide input on the following five questions:
- What area do you consider to be “downtown” Dublin?
- What are the three things that concern you most about downtown Dublin’s retail district?
- If you could create a single focus in the downtown retail district, what would it be?
- What three specific changes would you like to see in the downtown retail district?
- Where should the city focus its efforts to help the downtown retail district thrive and become a place where residents walk, shop, eat, drink, and relax?
On April 17th and 18th, 2018, the TAP panelists toured the retail district then gathered at Dublin City Hall to interview a group of stakeholders that included representatives of both public and private interests. Stakeholders included Dublin public officials and staff, property owners and managers, housing developers, business owners, and the Chamber of Commerce. Several themes emerged from the stakeholder interviews including:
- Desire for a focal point or an anchor that gives people a reason to come to the district.
- Concern about the lack of focus and empty anchor tenants within the district, which has led to reduced foot traffic.
- The need for additional housing, noted as important to get more people into the retail district, because local residences would both add a captive market and increase property values, potentially incentivizing redevelopment.
- Desire to make the area more bicycle and pedestrian friendly for retail customers, local residents, and office employees while having a place for events and more entertainment and food and beverage establishments.
- The city’s need to investigate the capacity and age of the current infrastructure, as well as how to resolve out-of-date and complex easements and restrictions, rather than rely on individual property owners to solve these issues.
- Developer and property owners’ desire for financial incentives to assist with the costs of redevelopment.
After hearing the stakeholders, the panel synthesized the given information to move forward the revitalization of the Dublin retail district. The panelists brainstormed areas of potential focus for the city, then suggested implementation tools and investment strategies that are reflective of the particular regional economic market context Dublin is in today. These conclusions can be read about in more detail in the full TAP report. As a summary, they included:
- Create a city vision to increase density (as a catalyst for community benefits) and walkability within the district. A unified vision is critical to the success of community initiatives to guide and support early development processes toward mutually beneficial outcomes.
- Attract an entertainment anchor for the retail district. Behind the creation of a unified vision, an entertainment anchor would significantly change the character of the area, helping it become a place where people want to spend time and socialize, further supporting both the retail uses in the district and a sense of community
- Create a higher level of development certainty. Among the strategies for doing this would be to increase fee transparency, modify community benefit programs, or create a form-based code Precise Plan and/or revisit the Downtown Dublin Specific Plan for updates (such as including form-based codes) in order to enhance developer understanding of city goals.
- Evaluate the potential to subsidize or finance sewer and water fees from the Dublin San Ramon District. Currently, these fees are largely prohibitive of new restaurant development, a desired community use that relies heavily on these services. The sentiment exists in the development community that these fees are outsized compared with those in other
Read the full Dublin TAP report to learn more about Dublin, the TAP methodology and final recommendations.
By Rae Smith