By Meghan Hall
The Mare Island Specific Plan was originally adopted in March of 1999 and has since seen five revisions over the past two decades, as the conversion of Mare Island to civilian uses has been a long, expensive and difficult process for the City of Vallejo. In November, The Nimitz Group formally acquired 500 acres from Lennar Mare Island after the Vallejo City Council approved the transfer of land and development rights in July of this year. The acquisition marks the beginning of a new public-private partnership between Nimitz Group and the City of Vallejo to finish the decades-long redevelopment of Mare Island.
“This acquisition signals the next evolutionary phase in the revival of Mare Island,” said Mayor Bob Sampayan in a statement. “We are excited to expand our work with The Nimitz Group through an innovative partnership and continue to build the momentum that will establish Mare Island and Vallejo as the premier destination in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
The 500 acres encompasses the former Mare Island Naval Ship Yard, which was closed by the Navy in 1996 and subsequently transferred to the City of Vallejo. Lennar had entered into its initial acquisition and development agreement with the City of Vallejo in December of 1999 and has since constructed 300 homes and upped the number of businesses and related jobs on the property 110 and 3,000, respectively.
In May of 2018, The Nimitz Group also acquired 157 acres of land on North Mare Island, and in June of this year, the firm purchased the 170-acre golf course on Mare Island. In all, The Nimitz Group now owns more than 800 acres of residential and commercial land on the island.
For the north part of Mare Island, The Nimitz Group has proposed the construction of a 56-acre film campus, as well as industrial space and parks.
“Combining the north and south parts of the island under a single private developer, and the support demonstrated by our community and City Council, will accelerate the growth and expansion of commercial opportunities on Mare Island,” said City Manager Greg Nyhoff. “The Nimitz Group shares the City’s vision of anchoring sustainable, living-wage employers in Vallejo in an environment that provides access to the resources today’s businesses need – transportation options, a skilled workforce, quality housing, and a proactive City partner.”
Before its closure, the Mare Island Naval Base and Shipyard was the largest and oldest base west of the Mississippi. Its decommissioning in the 1990s meant that the City of Vallejo lost its main economic drivers. During World War II, the shipyard employed some 40,000 workers, and even after downsizing in 1988, still employed some 10,000 people. When Mare Island Naval Base formally closed, the City lost an additional 5,800 jobs.
“The Shipyard had always been a vital part of the City’s economy and character and there was particular concern over the loss of such an important employment base,” states the Mare Island Specific Plan, which lays the groundwork for the redevelopment of hundreds of acres on Mare Island.
For many, the replacement of jobs and the creation of a driving economic hub within Vallejo is paramount. While The Nimitz Group has not yet released a formal redevelopment proposal for the property, it has held four community information meetings between June and November on an array of topics from economic development to wellness strategies to resilient coastal development strategies.
In its first community meeting, the development team expressed its plans to leverage economic clusters based in technology, research, development and production, media, higher-education and destination-driven activities. The resulting development would be a mix of commercial space geared toward biotech R&D, device manufacturing, programming, motion picture production, botanical gardens, museums and wineries—several of which are already in the works at the north end of Mare Island.
San Francisco-based architecture and design firm HOK has been enlisted by The Nimitz Group to help with the master planning process for the project.
With no draft redevelopment plan in place, timing for the project is yet unclear, and will be decided upon in the years to come. City officials and community members alike, however, have expressed hope at having a new developer on board to move forward a planning process that has been now more than 20 years in the making.