Walnut Creek isn’t the first city divided by a nasty dispute over a retail development

After writing my post yesterday about anti-Nieman Marcus signature-gatherers hitting downtown, I came across this really interesting story, published online Saturday, by the Contra Costa Times Walnut Creek reporter Elisabeth Nardi.

She begins her story with this intriguing scenario: “A town divided by a proposed retail development, lawsuits filed on council decisions and referendum petititions bankrolled bya rival mall owner. Sound familiar?”

The story points out that Walnut Creek isn’t the first city in American to endure this kind of bitter, drawn-out dispute over a retail development–or this sort of behind-the-scenes, big money politicking and grandstanding.

Michigan-based Taubman, the international mall owner that is “making waves for downtown Walnut Creek’s future Neiman Marcus store, waged a similar battle” in the affluent Connecticut town of West Harford, Nardi says.

“And,” Nardi writes, “according to experts, this sort of hardball between rivals happens all the time.”

Oh goody.

Nardi explains how developers and West Hartford leaders worked on a $150 million downtown mixed-used expansion project called Blue Black Square. By the way, there are some usual suspects occupying space in this West Harford project: Crate & Barrel, Barnes and Noble (above right) , White House/Black Market, and Cheesecake Factory. Protest groups started popping up, then there was a lawsuit, and a voter referendum. And according to the mayor of West Hartford, “Taubman Centers did the organizing.”

Taubman owns Sunvalley Mall in Concord (below) and is the potential retail developer for the San Ramon City Centre, whose construction has been delayed about two years due to the sour econonomy. Meanwhile, Broadway Plaza owner Macerich is trying to bring the luxury department store to downtown Walnut Creek.

Taubman bankrolled a petition drive against the Neiman Marcus proposal when it was first proposed and approved by the city in the fall. The petition drive, which cost Taubman nearly $100,000, garnered enough signatures to put the matter to a city-wide vote. Macerich responded by withdrawing its first proposal and somewhat downsizing the size of its project–from three stories to two–and by finding ways to kinda, sorta address concerns that the new store would add to downtown’s parking woes.

IMHO, the initial Neiman Marcus proposal was definitely flawed, for a variety of reasons that I and various residents have pointed out. It was also aggravating to see how the city and Macerich rushed the proposal through–without truly engaging the community in any discussion about the process. The city and Macerich held a series of community meetings, to reintroduce the new downsized proposal. How well those meetings truly engaged community input is up for debate–at least among my readers.

Now, four days after the City Council approved a somewhat downsized Neiman Marcus proposal, the signature gatherers were out in force in downtown Walnut Creek. Once again, someone–Taubman–wants to force a city-wide vote on the issue.

Check out Nardi’s story. It definitely offers a picture of how truly ugly and drawn-out this Neiman Marcus process could become.

Of course, some key questions remain? Do we in Walnut Creek want outsiders trying to dictate local decisions? Then again, will Neiman Marcus really benefit the city? Is it worth all this fuss?

3 thoughts on “Walnut Creek isn’t the first city divided by a nasty dispute over a retail development

  1. Perhaps if the City had not allowed the NM agreement to trump virtually all building codes and guidelines that all other business must adhere to and had really welcomed citizen input, an outside force wouldn’t have as much influence. The City ignored it’s residents, which gave Taubman an easy ‘in.’


  2. Taubman’s “interference” last fall gave us a much better plan that has now been approved by the Council. Not the best, but better.

    Hats off to the free market society!

    Heads bowed in silence for the arrogant and greedy actions of the Council the first time around.

    With five years to build, and no guarantee that it will even happen, the Council is going “all-in” with visions of one retailer solving all of their current and future fiscal problems. Do they really think that new shoppers will just materialize in the meantime with the promise of a NM somtime in the future?

    Adjust(lower) spending now to live within our means while we wait for the pot to show up at the end of the rainbow.


  3. I received a recorded message from Gwen Regalia yesterday urging me not to sign the petition being circulated. After ignoring years of poll results and surveys which clearly showed that residents were concerned about traffic and growth in downtown, she’s suddenly turning to us for help? Her motto was “bigger is always better”.As head of ABAG she pushed through massive condo developments and as a council member, she spearheaded overdeveloped projects in the downtown area with little respect for the ambiance of downtown WC much less the traffic and parking problems that these projects created. Finally she rammed this oversized library down everyone’s throats and now she has to have Neiman Marcus to pay for it. I’m relieved that she no longer wields the power she once had. Sadly, she did more harm than good.


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