San Ramon community members gathered Tuesday to mark a milestone at the heart of the city -- the ceremonial groundbreaking for the City Center at Bishop Ranch.
Designed by award-winning international architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the new retail and entertainment hub by Bishop Ranch owner Sunset Development consists of 300,000 square feet for about 75 stores, several restaurants and a luxury movie theater around a one-acre piazza.
Developers and city officials hope the City Center, located off Bollinger Canyon Road just east of Interstate 680, will finally provide San Ramon with a true downtown area.
"This is a transformational project," Alexander Mehran Sr., chairman and CEO of Sunset Development, said to open the ceremony on warm Tuesday morning.
"This is not just another shopping mall," Mehran continued. "It's a place where you will celebrate the important milestones in life, and it's a place where we will celebrate community activities."
"We're going to capture the energy of our area and the community spirit of our area, here at City Center at Bishop Ranch. And it is because of the strength of our community that we are able to do this kind of project," he added.
More than 70 people -- mainly City Center developers, local government officials and media members -- attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the project site, located at the intersection of Bollinger Canyon Road and Sunset Drive, where Bishop Ranch 2 office buildings used to sit.
Work is already underway at the site, with significant grading complete along with some trenching and structural work for the building now in progress. Sunset Development plans to open the City Center in October 2018.
"In a short 18 months -- and I mean 18 months -- we will be open here with shops and restaurants and a luxury cinema that will bring people to the heart of San Ramon and have them have a place to celebrate our wonderful community," Mehran said.
San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson told the audience he hopes the City Center will serve to represent the "core of San Ramon."
"San Ramon over the years has really been crying out to have another place where we can call home, a place that can be a gathering place," he said, offering his endorsement of the project.
"It's a partnership, but it's your money. I love those kind of partnerships," Clarkson said to Mehran, drawing chuckles from the audience. "We're here to support you in any way we can."
City officials also hope the City Center will be a centerpiece for a new walking district of San Ramon in the area, according to Clarkson.
The project is next to the Bishop Ranch business park and year-old City Hall, as well as near Central Park, the San Ramon Community Center, the recently renovated San Ramon Library, the Iron Horse Regional Trail, and The Shops at Bishop Ranch and The Marketplace shopping centers.
THE LOT, a luxury cinema and restaurant venue that will anchor the City Center, is the only tenant revealed publicly. Mehran said Sunset will announce new retail and restaurant tenants in a couple weeks, adding that the catalog includes some "household names."
THE LOT will offer a 10-screen movie theater with reclining leather chairs and in-seat food service, plus a restaurant, cafe and bar.
Adolfo Fastlicht, CEO of THE LOT, said Tuesday that the City Center site -- his company's first Bay Area location -- will "become a community hub where people celebrate, basically, social interaction."
"Ours is a hospitality concept that embodies basically the concept of wanting people to be together to celebrate life and the experience of receiving a quality product in a fantastic setting," Fastlicht added. "We couldn't have chosen a better location, a better project and especially a better partner in the Mehran family in our foray into this Northern California area."
The retail and entertainment complex is slated as the first phase of the City Center project. It also includes a planned second phase consisting of 487 apartment units, a 169-room hotel and another 50,000 square feet of retail space, plus another piazza facing the first-phase complex. The latter project is expected to open in 2020, according to Sunset officials.