Big plans could transform East Bay city into an innovation hub and stretch northern boundary of Silicon Valley.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2015As the city of Fremont’s economic development director, Kelly Kline serves as a liaison to the business community. She has worked in municipal government for the last 20 years, concentrating on downtown revitalization, retail recruitment, corporate retention and small business development. Kline is a past chair of the Silicon Valley Economic Development Alliance, a regional collaboration to promote Silicon Valley as a dynamic place for business.
TR: The city of Fremont has had a long history of industrial development and manufacturing, but now there are plans to expand the role the city plays in the Bay Area through the Warm Springs/South Fremont Community Plan. Can you please give us an overview of this project and the timing of its delivery?[contextly_sidebar id=”1XfHvWazz2waa6APpQ9qJliejc65LioC”]KLINE: Warm Springs represents an opportunity that is unprecedented in the Bay Area—an 850-acre Innovation District that is more than double the size of Mission Bay. Already anchoring the district is Tesla Motors, who is reinventing manufacturing in their 5-million-square-foot factory. By the end of 2015, BART will open the new Warm Springs/South Fremont Station, the only station between Oakland and San Jose functioning as a major employment center. Our new community plan calls for a greater density and mix of uses, including up to 4,000 new housing units, 20,000 jobs and related amenities. A new Innovation Way will be the new signature address for South Fremont. We expect that much of this development can and will occur in the near term.
TR: Have there been other projects that have come forward as a result of the Warm Springs/South Fremont Community Plan? What are they?
KLINE: Private and public investment has started in earnest. Thermo Fisher cut the ribbon on their new diagnostics center just south of Tesla. Their $85 million investment is the largest in their company history. Companies such as Lam Research, Delta Products and Seagate are also investing millions into the expansion of their companies and expect to reap the rewards of adjacency to the city’s transit-connected innovation hub.
On the public side, the city of Fremont is itself investing in key infrastructure including a new bike/pedestrian bridge that will connect BART to the new Innovation Way, the center of the Innovation District. The city has funded the conceptual and final design of the Bridge and the plaza. The plaza is designed to provide a strong public space that will encourage vibrant interaction, entertainment and retail options. Construction is anticipated to be fully funded through the recent voter approval of transit Measure BB.
Last but not least, the city has received preliminary mixed-use development plans from both Lennar and Toll Brothers. Combined, they will develop approximately 150 acres of land surrounding the new BART station.
TR: Are the residents on board with this project? Have you seen resistance to the initiative?
KLINE: The Fremont community has been involved in planning for this area since the NUMMI plant closed in 2010, taking cues from the city’s General Plan, which calls for Fremont to embrace a more “strategically urban” approach, especially near its transit hubs. During the downturn in the economy, Fremont used this time to plan for growth that would increase its innovation profile and secure its economic future. The community has largely embraced this plan, especially with the commitment of near-term developers to fund, and build, a new elementary school within the Innovation District.
TR: The housing component is also a very important part of it, and Lennar is one the companies that will lead the charge through its redevelopment of 112 previously industrial acres around the Warm Springs District. What opportunities does Fremont provide for home building and expanding the very tight housing stock our region has?
KLINE: Warm Springs alone can accommodate up to 4,000 housing units, and downtown Fremont can accommodate 2,500 more. A large portion of the Warm Springs units will be on the Lennar site, in much higher densities than have traditionally been built in Fremont. The introduction of housing into this traditional industrial zone is a strategic play. Vital innovation districts inter-mix commercial development with residential units to create that live/work environment that is desired not only by millennials, but by the rest of us, too!
TR: What are some of the city’s priorities over the next few years as these plans come to fruition?
KLINE: Fremont has a sense of urgency to move the Warm Springs and Downtown Districts as far along as possible. Our priorities fall into three categories: infrastructure, public/private development partnerships and innovation.
Our infrastructure projects encompass everything from iconic bridges, to grand boulevards, to public plazas to more operational items such as shuttles and bike lanes. And since we can’t do it all, we are relying on public/private partnerships to provide the catalyst projects that will spur more development over time. This includes our work with Lennar, which is in progress, and with TMG [Partners] and Sares Regis, who will build the first block of Fremont’s new Downtown along Capitol Avenue.
Last but not least, we are working on the “intangibles” that will provide the connective tissue, the coolness, and the community that will breathe life into this significant financial investment. This includes everything from nurturing our emerging arts scene (check out FUSE – Fremont Underground Social Experience; http://bit.ly/1tL1OLa) to conducting Innovation EcoLabs, which enlists a broad range of Silicon Valley stakeholders to help Fremont strengthen its innovation ecosystem in Warm Springs.
TR: Where do most of Fremont’s inhabitants work? Do you consider yourself a bedroom community, and is that something that the city would like to change?
KLINE: Fremont has a fairly even jobs/housing balance in that the daytime population is similar to its residential population. However, because of Fremont’s central Bay Area location, it still has its fair share of commuters. We estimate that about a quarter of our residents work in Fremont, although the City’s robust plans to add jobs in Warm Springs will only improve that ratio over time.
TR: What are the obstacles that the city faces in light of these plans that it has to mitigate?
KLINE: Now that we have a solid plan to manage school impacts, the next challenge for Warm Springs is to focus on transportation. We expect BART to help mitigate concerns about congestion, especially once the connection is made to Milpitas and north San Jose in fall 2017. Here again, the passage of Measure BB, along with the city’s traffic impact fees, will help fund many improvements to roads that will enhance access and circulation throughout Warm Springs.
Our other challenge in the post-redevelopment era is financing. However, we haven’t let that stymie our plans. The city has a portfolio of land assets that we will be taking to market over the next two years. Additionally, we will be working in partnership with developers to facilitate infrastructure financing districts as well as applying for grants to leverage these investments.
TR: You previously were redevelopment manager in Cupertino, and before that were downtown manager for the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. What challenges does Fremont have that are different than Cupertino’s and downtown San Jose’s?
KLINE: I’ve previously worked in environments with more established reputations, whereas Fremont’s identity is going through a stunning transformation as an emerging stealth player in Silicon Valley. Much of my time is spent introducing investors to this market opportunity or changing their perceptions about the city. Our economy has evolved from an old-style industrial city into a center for advanced manufacturing and high-growth, hardware-oriented industries such as clean technology and biomedical devices. It’s happened so quickly that market perceptions haven’t kept pace. That’s why we created ThinkSiliconValley.com as a way to tell our story directly to the business audience.
TR: Are the cities in the region more cooperative today than they were in the past? Is that one of the obstacles that the region faces, and could it affect development in the future?
KLINE: The cooperation among economic development professionals in the Bay Area would probably surprise most everyone. We are all under-resourced and rely on each other to share best practices. We also understand that our local economies are very much interconnected, and that our real competition lies outside the Bay Area. However, we can always do more regionally, and many issues demand that kind of collaboration: transportation, affordable housing and workforce development, to name a few. The Bay Area functions by default as a “virtual city” of more than 3 million. It’s time to tap into our collective assets for the greater good of the region!
TR: What else should we be asking that we are not asking?
KLINE: I’m often asked about Fremont’s demographics, which are truly global and add an extra dimension to our city, including the dining scene! If you’re wondering about my favorite lunch spot in Fremont, I’d recommend Shalimar in Walnut Plaza.