Pleasanton Weekly

Column - September 9, 2011

Thanks, Marshall

by Jeb Bing

Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena and his colleague Robert Brvenik, who is building the 120-plus store upscale outlet mall at I-580 and El Charro Road, deserve medals for endurance in finally getting the $162 million project under way. They have worked on building Paragon Outlet Mall since 2004 with so many financial and regulatory bumps in the road that Brvenik told well-wishers at a groundbreaking ceremony last month his project has been dubbed "Perseverance Mall."

And well it should be. Headquartered in Baltimore, Paragon Outlet Partners considered sites in Connecticut, Florida and California for their new and most ambitious project before settling on the Livermore site. It is ideally located at the newly widened El Charro Road overpass across from a new Target superstore in Dublin that will open Oct. 9. Although the proposed new auto mall in Staples Ranch just across El Charro in Pleasanton was recently scuttled, it's likely a new and similar development will soon be considered. As it is, the Paragon center now being built will contain 443,000 square feet of retail space with more than 60% of the individual outlets already leased. These include Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5THGAP, Nike and Barney's, which brought a roar from the crowd when Brvenik mentioned the name. In addition to millions of sales tax dollars the outlet stores will bring to the state and Livermore, they will hire more than 2,000 people to serve customers when the center opens before Thanksgiving in 2012.

For Kamena, who will step down as mayor in November, although he's expected to win an open City Council seat he is seeking in that same election, the chance to toss the first shovel full of dirt to break ground for the Paragon center was a highlight of his political career. Agreeing to meet with the developers confidentially when they first approached him about considering the Livermore site, he and a few others on the council and in city government began sharing in the good news and providing data Paragon needed. The Paragon team made more than 50 different site inspections, referring to the El Charro site as "San Francisco/LDK30" in code. Site plans shown to Kamena and city representatives carefully covered over the names of other places under consideration. Officers of the Baltimore company, including its management team, accountants, architects, banks, trust fund investors and attorneys, trekked back and forth from Livermore to the East Coast.

A major concern was the costly and timely regulatory and environmental burden placed on developers and businesses by California regulators, but they agreed to proceed anyhow. "Little did they know!" Kamena said at the groundbreaking. He joked that some on today's Paragon team were fresh out of college when the project was started, but then he talked about seven long years of successes and near failures.

Kamena believes the effort should go into the Guinness Book of Records under a special category for building shopping centers. He thinks the Paragon project would qualify as No. 1 by requiring the most entitlement projects, the greatest number of regulatory agencies for approval, at $57 million the highest infrastructure costs to satisfy the requirements, the greatest number of reviews over a six-year period of the same application with the same facts and figures, the greatest amount of land (150 acres) ever having to be set aside as habitat preserve for the tiger salamander and red legged frog, although no evidence of either was ever found, and the longest contract ever written by a three-letter regulatory agency Kamena wouldn't name, which is 1,109 pages long.

Now, seven years later, the earthmovers are at work and the first of the outlet store pads are being poured. For the Tri-Valley, Paragon Outlets promise to be a destination that will attracts shoppers from a 60-mile radius, who will stop, no doubt, at local restaurants, gas stations, hotels and other more conventional shopping centers. Thanks, Marshall.

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