When business people reference California’s “Bay Area” they most often think of the tech centers in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, but believe it or not, the East Bay was once the center of the Bay Area with the State Capital in the towns of Vallejo (1852) and Benicia (1853) before moving upriver in 1854 to where it now stands today in Sacramento. As the tech centers of San Francisco and Silicon Valley have boomed, few remember the industrial power that previously existed in the East Bay, such as mining, refining, wheat, and manufacturing.
One such city, Concord, is just 29 miles East of San Francisco and very well may host the Bay Area’s next tech boom. That is, if the city can finalize the purchase of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, about 5,000 acres of pristine land once used to house weapons for the Navy’s Pacific theater.
The deal has been 15 years in the making, but next week marks the ‘go-no-go’ decision point for the development half of the opportunity. This vote will decide if Concord is to become a new center for jobs, education and opportunities for its residents and the greater East Bay.
Nishan Degnarain, from the World Economic Forum’s Global Expert Network, recently met with the former Concord Major, Carlyn Obringer, to discuss the potential of the site. “Look at Dubai, now a global city. Few people realize that Dubai was a regional backwater 50 years ago, but their leaders managed to redevelop and redesign their economies, not just around oil, but around new technologies that they are bringing into the city. Concord has the potential to do the same—I see it as the gateway to Silicon Valley.”
Five Point, an independent IPO spinout of homebuilder Lennar, is the developer who’s been working with Concord and the Navy to create the master lease road map. The project is under the leadership of a well known Bay Area real estate leader, Five Point COO, Kofi Bonner. Bonner has previously captured national attention with several important economic development efforts during his tenure working in development agencies of San Francisco, Oakland and the City of Emeryville.
“What Kofi Bonner did for the city of Emeryville was incredible. It’s now home to a large number of the world’s biotech and synthetic biology companies and with this new development in Concord, there is the potential to do the same,” said Ed Del Beccaro, a real estate broker in nearby Walnut Creek with TRI Commercial.
Quay Hays, a prominent sustainable real estate developer who has worked on similar projects in California also agrees, “Concord offers a rare opportunity to start from scratch with a new development and Five Point has the opportunity to create not just your typical offices with retail and housing, but an actual real 21st-century community with an economy that works for everyone.”
Concord’s plan includes sustainable infrastructure, quality of life activities and affordable housing, which is first on everyone’s list in the overpriced Bay Area residential real estate market. Frank Tate, a Concord born entrepreneur who recently relocated to Hawaii, sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, “Concord is the perfect place to house the next boom, as there is already an amazing workforce in the East Bay, but people currently spend hours each day commuting out of the county rather than enjoying the commute-less opportunity this project represents.”
While many are looking to the future—the project, which will generate jobs, housing and well-needed tax revenue that will benefit the entire community—is not yet clear for take-off.
Development in California is slow, and the ability for the five-person Concord City Council to move forward with a decision is hampering progress, according to some. “Concord may become world-class at how not to create a world-class project,” said Greg Enholm, a trustee of the local community college and a member of the original planning committee, who is keen to see the project go ahead as planned. “They can succeed, it’s just whether they will or not,” he said.
The City Council is due for a pivotal vote next Tuesday on whether to move ahead with the project and the potential it represents for the East Bay. The final hurdle rests in the local union, the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council, which is demanding a project labor agreement that would peg their salaries to those in San Francisco, which the developer argues, and internal reports from the City Council agree, would make the whole project unprofitable.
California has long struggled with balancing current workforce needs with future workforce development, all the while keeping the local labor unions happy. A tough decision indeed, as they balance the upside of Concord being a true city of the future versus the downside of pricing it out of reality. If Five Point walks away, it could be another 5-10 years before a new developer comes forward—leaving the site’s potential, and the area’s commute, all jammed up.
Originally published on Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncumbers/2020/01/03/will-concord-be-the-bay-areas-next-tech-hub/0