So where to start this story? Initially I was going to title this Phinneytown because of a single person, Dave Phinney. He became smitten with our lovely Mare Island a few years ago. Smitten being one of my favorite words, in this case I do not say it tongue in cheek. When he said this publicly, my heart definitely squeezed. Phinney came to Mare Island, saw the potential and moved swiftly to lock down first seven buildings, then 157 acres on the north end of the island with his freshly-formed Nimitz Group. He was well and truly smitten since many of us know the hoops he had to go through just to get the opportunity to submit a plan for expansion of his projects.
While working on that plan, another 500 acres came in to play when Lennar decided to back out of plans to build more (mediocre) housing. Mind you, they are still on the hook for remediation of parts of the island they’ve been dragging their feet on doing these past 20+ years they’ve been in control. I am thankful the door will close on more uninspired housing and the roadblock to moving forward that was Lennar — who ultimately just wanted to build acres upon acres of indifferent housing and never showed much appreciation for the spirit of the Island, the beautiful commercial district, and the opportunities to be creative and unique on Bay Area waterfront property. (Let's hope the City of Vallejo has tough performance standards already in place so Lennar completes the remediation work in a timely manner.)
After the quickly formed Nimitz group got the go ahead for the north end of Mare Island they found out about the remaining acreage and wisely thought, "Gee, maybe we need a more holistic approach?" Fantastic! Last month there were three opportunities to attend meetings hosted by the Nimitz Group and HOK. Now HOK is one of the world's most notable master developers — and they are part of this deal!
When I heard the Mare Island Golf Course was for sale and a buyer had stepped forward pretty quickly, I put 2+2 together. This new entity who, as of last week, did not yet own any of this north or central part of Mare Island — yet they had HOK starting studies on wind, heat, soil and holding community input meetings. Well I figured if Nimitz had bought Mare Island Golf Course, then they were definitely ALL IN in taking over the development vision for the island.
I’ll admit I’m a bit jaded when it comes to developers blowing into town with big ideas, shiny brochures and colorful posters. I am a veteran of many developers and their proposals. Along with other Vallejoans I have championed good developers and saw them unceremoniously felled because they didn’t grease the right skids; and I’ve challenged bad developers and watched in horror as city staff and council members turned their eyes and let them scam their way into sweetheart deals. The taxpayers, of course, have been victimized on all of these crazy journeys.
However, I have always remained hopeful that the right group would not only see the “Big P” that is Vallejo (aka “Potential” as many Vallejoans call it), but would have the wherewithal to bring something truly visionary to completion while transparently collaborating with the people so our needs and input are included.
Is this Nimitz takeover a good thing or a bad thing? Welllll, having all those eggs in one basket makes me a little nervous, ergo Nimitzville. If the Nimitz Group was a less experienced master developer, or was led by someone who's entire career lacked the courage of taking grand chances and excelling past any expectations, I think I would be pretty itchy at this point.
The presentation they did back in June was solidly thought out. The tack they took was, "We want to hear from you, what you want, what is important to you" while they explained how conscious they were of the very rare opportunity to develop an island around existing historically significant buildings and open space — in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was palpable their reverence for our gritty island. They definitely see the “Big P”.
As an aside, I tell this story to anyone who will listen but, I hear voices when I’m on Mare Island. No, not those kind of voices but a quiet to sometimes boisterous chorus of voices through the 160 years or so that island has been engaged. It feels alive — even when it seemed empty and nothing was happening. I'm on the island almost every weekend for a run/walk with my dog and of course I enjoy Vino Godfather's porch or a gathering at Mare Island Coal Shed Brewery and, often, I'll find a great client gift at the Mare Island Art Studios. So many of us have our own connections to the island and appreciate how precious she is, even though she might be a bit tattered here and there. Never was, “a rising tide lifts all boats” more apropos — but putting our island’s future in the hands of Dave Phinney/Nimitz Group and HOK may just be the only scenario where Mare Island can fully blossom.
Here's another aside, and maybe the biggest factor in my trust that Phinney will do right by our town, I took the tour and tasting at Savage & Cooke. I was not a fan of brown spirits and here they make Bourbon, Rye and Whisky. Surprise, I liked what I tasted but I loved the very singular vision that crafted those spaces. From the deconstructed front of the tasting room, to large steel doors with too many layers of lead paint shining through, exposing the initials of the workers who built the bridge between two buildings down to the 'it would be disturbing if it wasn't in just the right place' photographs in the private tasting room. The care he took in not covering up bits of history and in reusing artifacts that others might have thought junk are now graced in prominence throughout the buildings. This is no half-measures kind of person and he seems to align himself with others of the same ilk.
I’ve just put up for sale one of those sweet 1924 view homes on B Street in Bay Terrace. Its vista is Mare Island and Mt. Tam. I’ve dubbed her The House That Smiles. She has seen a lot of our history - and maybe the best days are before us.