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Editorial: Planning is a process
June 30, 2011
The way that Solano County has envisioned revamping the fairgrounds in Vallejo isn't economically viable, according to a market study turned over to Solano County supervisors last week.
When it was produced in 2009, the Solano360 Vision was billed as part San Antonio River Walk and part Downtown Disney. The mixed-use development proposed walking paths along a restored creek, sports fields, office space, an expansive exhibition hall, a hotel and retail shops.
But the surrounding area already has more office space than it can lease, the new market study says. Hotels in Vallejo are only half-full now, and competition among exhibition halls is already fierce, as 10 others are located within an hour's drive of the fairgrounds. As for the proposed shops, they would only take business away from the stores already operating in Vallejo.
With an outlook that gloomy, why should the county continue to spend money on the redevelopment plan?
It's a question the public must surely be wondering, and credit Supervisor Linda Seifert with raising it at this week's board meeting.
The answer, according to those hired by the board to guide the redevelopment process, is that the report does more than steer planners away from what won't work -- it guides them toward what could work.
The 149-acre site, just southwest of the intersection of Highway 37 and Interstate 80, is a prime location for a regional draw. Indeed, it is just across the street from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which brings in 1.6 million visitors each year.
Rather than competing with the office and retail space that is already abundantly available, the study suggests, the fairgrounds should find a way to tap into the Six Flags customer base, either by way of a partnership with the theme park or by bringing in another entertainment venue that would complement it.
Expanding the entertainment opportunities would then build a market for hotels and hospitality-related retail, such as specialty shops and restaurants.
The market study brings a note of reality into the visioning process. But since the beginning, those involved in this process have acknowledged that any development would have to be flexible to meet changing needs and phased in to account for economic realities. The original vision was a starting point, and it served to identify the criteria for the fairgrounds: It must become a unique, mixed-use place that is economically sustainable and that ties into the surrounding community.
Exactly what that will look like is still a work in progress. Supervisors will get an update in August that should give them a better idea of whether the process should continue.