E-Mail Forum
Harbour Gate Shopping Center - Bad Urban Design & A Bust For Marina Bay Village Center
May 10, 2001

On May 8, ground was broken for a Richmond Redevelopment Agency project known as the Harbor Gate Shopping Center, located on the southwest corner of the interchange of I-580 and Marina Bay Parkway. According to the account in the West County Times (http://www.contracostatimes.com/community/wct/stories/harbor_20010509.htm), “The anchor tenant will be a 21,000-square-foot Longs Drug superstore—one of the largest in the Bay Area—offering produce and dairy products, along with the usual drugstore fare, said Alan Wolken, senior development projects manager for the city Redevelopment Agency. The strip mall also is expected to house a deli, coffee shop, dry cleaner, video store and bank outlets and a 7,000-square-foot restaurant.”

I voted against this project when it first came before the redevelopment agency, and I still believe that is not the type of project that our Redevelopment Agency should be pursuing. The community of Marina Bay has a crying need for a “village center,” where residents can, if they desire, easily walk to a place to obtain services such as a neighborhood grocery store, deli, video store, barber shop, coffee shop, cafes, etc. Ideally, such services would be combined with or be on the lower floors of buildings providing medium density housing. The architectural and urban design of such a village center would include a central plaza or park, a “living room” for the community, where people could stroll, sit, visit, intermingle and socialize with others while they shop or eat. It would also be of a scale that promotes such interaction. Such a project would have been consistent with the Ahwahnee Principles (TOM BUTT E-FORUM, April 7, 2001), adopted by the City Council on April 10, 2001.

Instead of a “village center” within walking distance of those it would serve, Harbor Gate Shopping Center is a plain conventional, retail only, strip mall designed to be accessed solely by automobile and dominated by parking lots. It could be anywhere. Neither the residents and employees of Marina Bay nor those of the neighborhoods north of the freeway are expected to become pedestrian patrons. If these folks want a latte or a video, they will likely drive the few blocks required to make the purchase and will then find few excuses to linger. By including such services as the deli, coffee shop, dry cleaner, video store and bank outlets, the center will suck up what minimal market exists for these services in Marina Bay, and severely limit or postpone the economic incentives for development of a village center within Marina Bay. If this had been purely a project of a private entrepreneur with the City having simply a regulatory role, perhaps we would have had little choice. But it was not. It was a public-private partnership with the City having a integral role in planning, subsidizing and promoting it. 

One of the reasons for having redevelopment agencies is to be able to shape development in ways that break the mold of conventional thinking in order to provide a better urban environment. There is nothing wrong with a Longs Drug store and the services and jobs that go with it. However, just imagine how much more good it could have done for the community if it had been located as a part of a walkable, transit served, neighborhood center somewhere in the same general vicinity.

Completing the Marina Bay Village Center should have been the highest priority of the Redevelopment Agency, but they instead put that project on the back burner in favor of making a few bucks (on paper) turning over a piece of property with highway frontage. Our Redevelopment Agency is capable of better, as can be seen by the plan for the innovative and appropriate “Transit Village” surrounding the Richmond BART station. The Richmond Transit Village is a marvelous piece of urban design and clear demonstration of adherence to the Ahwahnee Principles. 

The residents of Marina Bay have been poorly served by the Redevelopment Agency and by the master developer, Virtual Development, in the delay in building the Marina Bay Village Center. I fear that the Harbor Gate Shopping Center will just further hamper progress toward the completion of Marina Bay as a fully-serviced community. Shame on us.