CenterCal Unveils Plans To “Revitalize” Bay Street with Grocery Store Anchor, Other Modifications

Published On October 3, 2021 | By Rob Arias | Local Business, Planning & Development

The Emeryville Planning Commission reviewed plans for a proposed Bay Street Grocery Store at their September meeting. The anchor tenant is at the center of a revitalization effort by the new owners of the property.

Most agree that the mall is in desperate need of a change of course with high vacancy rates and some high-profile public safety incidents that have tarnished the appeal of the shopping center.

Plans to vote on the Marketplace FDP were delayed as quorum could not be achieved due to the absence of two commissioners and recusals of others due to conflicts of interest. The item will instead be reviewed at October’s meeting.

Study Session: Bay Street Grocery Store

Representatives of CalCenter Properties presented their plans for a 48,446 square foot grocery store at the parcel previously occupied by Old Navy and Elephant Bar. Existing tenants include Kara’s Cupcakes, Pizza My Heart, Red Mango & EQ3.

CenterCal acquired the struggling mall back in May with aggressive plans to revitalize it. They have already begun an overhaul of security measures as well as visibility improvements.

The new grocery building would include an open rooftop parking lot that will accommodate approximately 139 parking spaces as well as a handful of ground level “teaser” spaces.

Doing so would require removal of the existing plaza area in front of the Barnes and Noble bookstore to accommodate the ground level parking and vehicular circulation. Doing so would require modifying their original PDP and require approval by the city.

The developer explained that the removal of the plaza will be compensated for by the expansion of public spaces in other areas and the activating of additional spaces within the shopping center.

The city staff report aligned with the idea that a grocery store could help stave off the high level of vacancies the center is experiencing. Staff also noted the likelihood of a recommended traffic stop at Ohlone Way & Bay Street although discussion in the study session expressed conflicting support on the necessity of this.

“The headwinds we are facing are significant,” explained CenterCal President Craig Ramey. “Including significant tenant closures and declining occupancy and this started well before COVID-19.”

Ramey painted a grim outlook for the future of the mall if they could not rapidly turn things around. “Existing tenants have given notice that if changes and improvements are not made, they will close. We are doing all we can to assure existing tenants that help is on the way.”

The stairway to the food shed areas would be opened up to provided greater visibility and access to food tenants.

CenterCal discussed the trade-offs which they they noted as expanding the landing area of the nearly complete South Bayfront bridge and expanding other outdoor eating areas. CenterCal expects the presence of the bridge to become a tenant draw at the now vacant upstairs Food Shed.

Representatives explained that the grocery store and expanded plaza at the foot of the bridge would drive activation and attract new retailers to the rest of the mall. “I fear without the grocery anchor there’s decreased viability in the terrace happening successfully,” noted Gensler Architecture Principal Barry Bourbon during his segment of the presentation. “I agree that the existing condition requires a substantial catalyst for change and as we are seeing tonight I think the new anchor grocery proposal really does bring that change.”

The plans also include an improved connection from the bridge landing to the Bay Trail connection on Shellmound that might appease bicycle activists. “We hope there’s a lot of bicyclists coming over the bridge,” Ramey expressed. “There’s no connectivity and we think it’s important to add that connectivity.” Ramey reiterated that the safety of bicyclists was essential and offered to conduct further traffic studies.

Ohlone Way would be narrowed and bike infrastructure would be added to better connect the bridge landing to the Bay Trail connection at Shellmound.

This rendering shows the proposed narrowed Ohlone Way and expanded bridge landing plaza.

While commissioners and members of the public were generally supportive of the project and how it could help revitalize the decaying mall, as expected, they expressed concerns over the plans to remove the existing plaza and additional vehicular thoroughfare.

The reopening of Bay Street to cars is also likely to get pushback from bicycling activists who will need to weigh if the improved thoroughfare to the Bay Trail is an adequate trade off.  The “sacrifice” of the plaza community gathering space is also likely to be contentious as it has typically been where events and concerts were held and the only space where kids could run freely.

“There’s several compromises we can make with this but I think through traffic on that part of Bay Street is from what I’m hearing from the Commission and the public is not is a non-starter,” summarized Planning Commission Chair Steven Keller. Keller questioned the need for the teaser parking in front of the entrance and provided alternative ideas for traffic flow that would not require removal of the plaza or additional car thoroughfare.

“Existing tenants have given notice that if changes and improvements are not made they will close. We are doing all we can to assure existing tenants that help is on the way.”

Ramey expressed urgency for moving forward. “Time is not our friend,” and cautioned that a compromise might not attract a grocer tenant if the space proved to be inadequate for them.

City leaders will need to walk a delicate line as pushing back too much and ultimately thwarting the grocery store plans could lead to further decline of the shopping center.

Next steps for the project include a review by the BPAC, an October 19 City Council Study Session and a required community meeting to be held by the applicant.

Read the full staff report on Emeryville.org [PDF] and developer presentation embedded below. View the video presentation in the feature area above [00:25:17].

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

6 Responses to CenterCal Unveils Plans To “Revitalize” Bay Street with Grocery Store Anchor, Other Modifications

  1. cheshireisaacs says:

    While it would be great to have a grocery option nearby, traffic patterns are already so horrible at Bay Street, I can’t imagine what bringing something like that in would do to congestion, even if they took out that plaza, even as I agree the plaza is way underutilized. Also confused, since if the Public Market people couldn’t make a grocery thing work there, where traffic and parking are relatively easier, what makes the Bay Street folks think they can get someone there?

    Also dubious about how a grocery anchor helps the rest of the stores on the street. No one goes grocery shopping and then leaves their groceries to go browse shops. I can see how anchoring works where the Safeway is on Broadway, but there’s plenty of easy parking there and the kinds of shops one does just pop into, like fast food or pet supplies. Who says, “I’m going to get some groceries and just pop into H&M or Victoria’s Secret”?

    Finally, and this has been the worst thing about Bay Street from the start aside from the traffic congestion whenever the mall is even a little busy, I challenge anyone to name another mall that charges for parking.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You think this planning commission knows anything about a project like this? NOT A CHANCE, here’s a prime example of failures of mixing these two types of retail:

    https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-dpt-xpm-2001-12-05-export42337-story.html

    I’ll wager the over/under of it going out of business at 4 years.

  3. Luke says:

    Great article. Would the existing tenants close as well? Pizza My Heart, Kara’s Cupcakes, and Red Mango all would be big losses, especially given that the food court upstairs remains 100% vacant. If they did close, 48,000 square feet seems awfully small given how massive that area of land is, but I imagine that it’s not counting the spots for other retailers.

    Bay Street certainly needs help, but I don’t know if this is the best answer. The outdoor plaza and Pizza My Heart are probably the biggest draw for families and young adults along with the Apple Store. I also imagine AMC and It’s Sugar will be hurt, as their candy is so overpriced to start with.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Just a few tidbits of the upcoming sh*tshow:

    The only way you’re gonna get a 40′ semi delivery to the designated loading dock is to drive down the newly created street and back it in. Good luck with that.

    On a related note, you’ve just introduced one of the most hazardous conditions for pedestrians, cars turning right.

    The northeast corner is a big f*ck you to the park by placing, what looks like a garbage pick up. Nice touch boys.

    Whole parcel to the north of the mall, across from the hotel would be a better location due to available land and the ability to create a new addition to the development (gateway to better living), rather than squeezing it in this ill-conceived location.

    But the current planning committee and council will look at the pretty pictures and say yes.

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