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Expectations and Deliverables

Is Foster City ever going to be a retail destination?

The City is in the process of working with the developer of the remaining 15 acres adjacent to City Hall.  In the past, there were many different approaches and solutions, each has had its own sets of challenges and never came to fruition.  The current development will serve a much desired and needed function in our community.  It will provide housing for seniors and care for those in need of assisted living.  In addition there is some expectation by the community that it will serve as a town square and provide a successful retail and/or dining component that may be lacking in our city.  It may be necessary to adjust our expectations and rethink exactly what impact this development may have within our community.  The majority of the acreage will be covered by various residential buildings in different configurations.  The retail component is limited to roughly 30,000 square feet.  Each of Foster City’s current retail centers far exceeds the proposed size of retail in the 15 acre development.  It is important to consider that our current retail centers have a far amount of vacancies within them and struggle to remain vital in our extended community of San Mateo County.  Foster City is not a retail or dining destination and additional 30,000 square feet of retail is not going to change that harsh reality. We are a destination for our quality of life. We are a quiet community with excellent quality of life.  In the past our centers served as local resources for our residents and employees of surrounding businesses.  We, as a City, cannot over-promise and under-deliver. It is imperative that we manage the expectation our residents with regard to the 15-acre development and its function and form. There is no doubt that the primary function of the development is to provide our seniors with housing alternatives as they age in place within our community. Over the course of time it seems that various ancillary functions were introduced and gained traction along the way. These concepts included retail, dining, and some sort of gathering place or town center. It may now be time to address these additional functions and uses. The better question is whether these expectations can be met, or do we need to adjust our view and the developer’s deliverables. Foster City does not exist in a vacuum. We are part of a larger community in which we complement existing inventory and/or compete for resident’s and customer dollars and loyalty. We do this in terms of housing, retail, dining, and commercial real estate. As a community, we do well in terms of desirable residential inventory and limited commercial retention. As a City, we continue to struggle with retail and dining choices. The hard reality is that we compete with our surrounding cities that have better access and more inventory. This creates far more diverse and numerous choices for Foster City residents outside the boundaries of our City. This fact is compounded by the limited amount and configuration of our retail inventory. We cannot expect that the creation of additional retail space will be any more successful than our existing inventory. This is compounded by the placement of the retail component and the activation of the surrounding area and potential consumers. The creation of a vital community space that will serve as a gathering place is no small task. Foster City’s current “downtown” are our amazing parks. We gather there through the week and on weekends to enjoy our family activities or sports. They serve as a place for our numerous events and celebrations. Will the creation of a 10,000 foot area surrounded by a parking lot and several shops change that dynamic? Edgewater Plaza has over 120,000 sq. feet of retail and a boardwalk that spans the waterfront. This is four times the size of the proposed town center. But even with its size and over 40 different businesses, it has not become a substantial component of our fragmented town gathering effort. That is because it was never intended to serve as such, nor is any other shopping center. Foster City is a community of neighborhoods by design. Each was designed to host a shopping center that would complement and serve the needs of the adjacent residences.  If we are to address this reality we will need to do so as part of a General Plan redesign and an overall reconsideration of the form and function of our retail center in relation to one another and regionally. If any retail is to be successful, it must be done so as part of the larger efforts of a sustainable Foster City. This effort must include all stakeholders including the residents, businesses, Chamber of Commerce, and City Staff and Policy Makers. We cannot expect results unless we take the time to understand the business environment and our place within it locally and regionally. We must create business that is sustainable. These businesses must not compete but rather complement existing inventory. In the alternative they must be unique and desirable to a significant portion of local residents. We must also realize that we are not now and may never be a destination for non-residents. The success of the 15-acre project does not hinge on the retail component or town center. Nor should it. The success of the project will be dependent upon the sale and rental of the lion-share of residential units. The retail or town center will be ancillary benefits only if they are well planned, executed, and able to be activated through a sustainable economic development plan.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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