ULI San Francisco Blog

ULI Tours the Public Market in Emeryville

Known for its food hall, eclectic mix of tenants and historic buildings, the Public Market in Emeryville is among the most recognizable destinations in the Bay Area. A multi-year redevelopment project with one to two years of construction remaining, the 14-acre project contains 300,000+ square feet of shopping, restaurants, entertainment, offices, and residential space, and also includes anchor grocery tenant New Seasons Market.

On Wednesday, May 17th, ULI held an event in a retail shell space at Public Market highlighting this unique project and the people who have been involved in bringing it to life. The event was co-sponsored by the East Bay Programs Committee and the Women’s Leadership Committees of both ULI Sacramento and San Francisco.

The evening began with a walking tour of the project.  Mark Stefan, Co-Founder and President of City Center Realty Partners and Nathan Hong, Senior Vice President at Avalon Bay described the history and vision of the complex and transformative redevelopment.

After the tour, Maureen Futtner, Principal of Maureen Futtner & Associates moderated a stellar panel whose conversation covered everything from for the project’s demand drivers to the changing face of retail.

Andre Lepore, Founder and Creative Director of Lepore Development and Co-Founder of Hot Italian pizza bar, a Public Market tenant, described what drew her to rent space in the Public Market.  After establishing a few locations in suburban Sacramento, she wanted Hot Italian to be an urban brand. The Public Market checks all of the boxes: it is transit-oriented, walkable, bike-able, and urban. Lepore noted that the psychographics of the neighborhood are important and described her clientele as educated, cultured, and high-earning.  She said the cyclist community helped to get the word out, as the location is easy to reach by multiple modes of transportation.

Mark Stefan described what inspired him to take on the Public Market as a project. He was attracted by the opportunity to create a truly mixed-use environment in the center of Emeryville and had a vision for a ‘great room’ where the community could spend time together. Mark said that everywhere you hear about the ‘death of retail’ but this assessment is too simplistic. While big-box retail may be dying, people are now looking for “experience retail” and “a place to connect, hang out, and socialize.” According to Mark, the Public Market is beginning to serve that purpose for the East Bay.

Nathan Hong was on board with the vision Mark had to bring the Public Market from a tired center to a more authentic live-work-play lifestyle environment. He said that a development like the Public Market covers a lot of uses, and has a lot of stakeholders. He noted that the established pre-development plan had to be slightly modified to allow for execution in line with the goals of project stakeholders. These goals included the City’s “hot button” issues like safety, traffic, public art, family housing, and other community benefits.

Rochelle Swanson, Councilmember for the City of Davis rounded out the panel, speaking to development from a city’s perspective.  She detailed the renaissance that Davis is currently experiencing and acknowledged that the city doesn’t have much space to grow outward, thereby requiring it to focus current and future growth vertically with integrated mixed-use projects like Public Market.

Each of the panelists left the group with a parting thought or piece of advice.  Mark said, “Speed the process, don’t kill the goose.”  Andrea said that the three key things a tenant should look for in a project are “good design, quality, and walkability and transit.”  Rochelle said that her key advice is to “listen, integrate, and cultivate.”  Finally, Nathan left the audience with three keys of his own: having a realistic vision and the willingness to collaborate and be flexible.

By Sage Sudbury

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