In a packed movie theater at Vallco Mall in Cupertino, owner and developer of Sand Hill Property Company, Peter Pau, in collaboration with the AIA Santa Clara Valley presented a vision for the redevelopment of the decades-old mall. The Hills at Vallco, as the new development has been named, promises to deliver a one-of-a-kind mixed-use facility that will be nothing short of a visual and efficiency marvel—a destination for visitors across the globe and a true icon of the Bay Area.
The presentation was given by none other than the two world-renown architects, Rafael Viñoly and Laurie Olin, who are behind the design of the green-roofed complex that weaves the surrounding hills into the development. And while the charismatic duo discussed the design decisions and provided insight into the project, the noticeable audio problems in the room in a way resembled the challenges Pau and his team faced in pitching the project. Opposition to the development is strong enough that its fate will be decided in a ballot this November. Just like at the movie theater, some Cupertino residents just can’t hear or see the vision proposed for Vallco.
“For those of you who have not been around for a while or never been here, this must be kind of scary to you because right now we have about a million square feet of vacant spaces,” said Peter Pau. “But it hasn’t always been like this.”
Vallco Fashion Park, as the mall was initially called, opened its doors in 1976. And according to Pau, it was a big deal. “It was such a hit that we got [numbers] of people flocking to this place,” he said. “And for the few years after that, it had continued to be a big success.”
However, as the world around the mall has changed and shoppers’ habits transformed it left the aging facility in an economic and physical obsolescence. Finally about two years ago an opportunity presented itself for Pau and his team to make a move on the asset. In November of 2014, The Registry was the first to report that Sand Hill Property Co. had purchased the long-struggling 1.3-million-square-foot Vallco Shopping Mall with plans to replace it with a mixed-use development. Sand Hill bought the mall’s interior shopping space and anchors Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s for approximately $320 million. The retail anchors were purchased for about $200 million, and the interior mall was acquired from Vietnam-based investor Vallco Shopping Mall LLC for approximately $120 million. The Vietnamese entity purchased the mall in 2009 for $64 million.
“Opportunity did not present itself until about two years ago,” Peter Pau said. “Two years ago, I had the chance to not only buy this mall, but also buy the three department stores that are part of it.”
And while purchasing may have been a clever financial maneuver, deciding what to do with the development was a gargantuan task on its own. Selecting from a larger group of world-renown architects, Sand Hill came down to five firms that presented distinct visions of the redevelopment. The design criteria that Pau outlined stated that the vision had to be bold and innovative as well as something that will transcend generations, something that would be known decades from now. Finally, the developer did not want a monument, he wanted something that belongs in Cupertino.
“What we were trying to figure out is how to do the best version of ordinary,” said Laurie Olin, head of The Olin Studio, one of the top American landscape architecture firms that is working on the project. “We don’t want to just produce something that is a monument. We want to produce a home and a place and a center and a town that is public and is enjoyable and works.”
Added Rafael Viñoly, principal of Rafael Viñoly Architects who has partnered with Olin on Vallco, “The part that comes with this territory is also the fact that it is absolutely unique. This is a destination project, and it’s not one that would get exhausted.”
Speaking of the importance of public feedback, Viñoly also underscored how the vision originates from that dialogue to create hints of activity depicting ways in which the space may be used. “We all together form the public. And the public has to have a vehicle how to express itself,” he said. “Some of these pictures on the screen describe perhaps a little bit exaggerated [vision] of how the place could be used for different kinds of community, and the best part is…that you don’t design or social engineer people, you create a platform that is capable of suggesting uses that get enriched by the way appropriate to them. And that is a unique thing.”
True to the vision, Sand Hill with the help of Viñoly and Olin is looking to transform the aging mall into a vibrant, walkable and sustainable mixed-use town center that would feature offices, residences and hotels, include a dynamic mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment options and serve as an exciting town center for Cupertino. Its most impressive feature is a living roof cover that resembles the rolling hills surrounding Cupertino and Silicon Valley.
And even though the developer has prepared a significant package of amenities, fees and other benefits that include a 30-acre community park and nature area with recreational trails, $40 million to fund a new elementary school for current Cupertino students, housing for seniors and $30 million toward I-280 improvements, opposition to the development is strong. Sand Hill claims that it has the support of the community, but the opponents have stated the same.
Liang Chao, with the citizen’s group BetterCupertino.org, said that 90 percent of the residents that her organization approached signed the petition to put the Cupertino Citizens’ Sensible Growth Initiative on the ballot. An even greater percentage expressed support while some declined to sign the petition, she said.
“You should be asking Sand Hill why they are afraid to advertise their Hills at Vallco project as what it is: An office park,” Chao said in an email when reached by The Registry in April. “It is apparent that Sand Hill knows that Cupertino residents want a shopping mall, not an office park. In any of Sand Hill’s Vallco flyers, 2 million square feet of office is never mentioned, not even the word ‘office.’ Not in any open house either.”
The opponents argue that some 10,000 workers employed in the 2 million square feet of new office space at the Hills at Vallco would add to traffic congestion, and children in the 800 new units of rental housing in the project would add to overcrowding in Cupertino schools.
Reed Moulds, managing director for Sand Hill Property Company, signaled the developer will continue in its efforts to win support for the project, “The conversation really doesn’t end here. I encourage you all to contact us through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, come to our site offices and expect more events like this over the course of the next many months as we continue to engage the community and answer any and all questions that you may have.”
He concluded the session by saying, “What you have in the Specific Plan is a contract with voters. All the details have been compiled in the 334-page Specific Plan, and that’s what is going to be qualifying for the November ballot this year.”