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Capstone's Jared Asch Talks Innovative Economic Development - A tale from six cities in the Bay Area

From episode: Economic Development - Lessons Learned 30 Years in The Field - EPISODE 10

Welcome to The Capstone Conversation. I'm your host, Jared Asch. Today, I'm joined by Ron Gerber. Ron is a former Economic Development Director, and he has worked in a number of cities throughout the Bay Area including Emeryville, Novato, Walnut Creek, South City, and Vallejo. I like the mix that he's worked in. He's worked in high-end shopping. He's worked in places that are industrial cities, bringing in new biotech, and new technology companies, but also trying to keep their industrial base in those cities. We're going to hear an interesting perspective today on economic development. Welcome, Ron. Why don't you tell us a little bit more about your background?

This blog post was written by AI tech from a transcription of the podcast and likely contains errors. Please listen to the podcast for more information.

Thank you, Jared Asch. Thank you for inviting me here today. The number of cities you mentioned all over the Bay Area, is very diverse, which gave me a lot of experience that I'm happy to share with you today about the kind of lessons learned and best practices. Let's start with chronology. During the nineties, I worked for Emeryville for about 12 years, and it led to a lot of very innovative practices at the time. We were one of the first to have an affordable housing ordinance and a strong public art component; we also had a city that was respecting its old industrial heritage, but also trying to transition to the next century. And we learned to do a lot of special outreach and work with the community to get results. For example, we got the first IKEA store in Northern California to go to an old steel mill site. I was in a couple of small meetings with Steve Jobs that eventually he and our team led to him moving the Pixar Computer Animation Studios to an old cannery site. Also north of IKEA was an old industrial patch that had 52 chemicals of concern. We had to go through the remediation site assembly. That eventually became an urban mixed-use town center with multiple theaters, restaurants, and over 200 housing units above the stores. It was mixed-use, entertainment, living, and a whole variety of uses that really helped other businesses that want to locate there as well, bakeries. The other thing is also, for example, when you have those businesses with strong biotechnics, that was also an Emeryville, led to other biotechs being a catalyst. Similar to Pixar, that computer animation studio led to other animation spinoffs and businesses located there. A lot of good lessons were learned there but, one of the cornerstones of all that was having community support. The community embraced transitioning from an old industrial enclave while respecting the businesses and the employment base.

How do we integrate that and transition with new uses, such as mixed-use and housing? Then there, from spent about a decade in the City of Novato, 15 miles north of there, helping transition the 600-acre military base Hamilton Field, but also helping to transform the downtown, which is also very exciting. There were some good lessons learned there too. We want to talk about the downtown for a second. It was a very sleepy downtown, pretty much closed its doors at about 5:30 most nights. But there was some areas that really needed to be upgraded. I know there's a lot of discussion that's trying about what can we get to anchor the downtown to get things popping on our sleepy main street, seven block main street. A lot of discussion about maybe a movie theater or some other dynamic project. But at the same time, we listened to the community. They wanted a couple of grocery stores, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods were at the top of initial to become an anchor. Most people would say, is it a grocery store, kind of an unusual type of retailer, you get to anchor downtown. When you think about it, depending on what your downtown community wants, it can be a tremendous anchor. It was at the far end, the east end of its downtown, and it actually led to a mixed-use project with Whole Foods as a ground floor and over 120 housing units on top of it. But one of the things that was so important about a grocery store was in a sleepy downtown at the time, most of those small independent mom-and-pop shops closed around 5:30. Before dinner time so the restaurants couldn't, get by. Well, how can you extend the hours? You get an anchor like Whole Foods that's maybe open from eight in the morning till 10 at night, and all of a sudden you've expanded something that's doing a 14-hour day instead of eight and a half. See, a grocery store is like a movie theater or something like that, how often do you go to the movies compared to a grocery store? It creates a lot of dynamic projects, daytime, evenings, and weekends, compared to movie theaters, which may have weekends and occasional weeknight evenings. When you think about it, frequent shoppers, a lot of traffic, you're going to get a lot of people going to downtown that ordinarily wouldn't go there,

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