Sunday, June 26, 2005

Anchoring Suisun's waterfront bonanza

From Daily Republic, Fairfield // June 26, 2005

By Matthew Bunk // staff writer

SUISUN CITY - A lot of developers think all the waterfront land in the Bay Area is used up, but one local real estate investor and the owner of a Suisun City boat shop know of an empty parcel on the Suisun Slough - a secret of sorts - with a lot of potential.

"It's kind of undiscovered," real estate investor John Scaff said the other day while standing on the grass-covered lot tucked between Kellogg Street and the river channel. "Most people in Suisun don't even know it's here, and that's a shame because it's such a nice spot."

Scaff and his partners hope to one day place a white-tablecloth restaurant, some offices and a kayak rental shop in a new building overlooking the water. Part of the plan includes a yacht dealership and a hull to pull large boats out of the water for repairs.

The result, as Scaff sees it, would be more foot traffic in a section of town dotted by small retail shops, a sales tax boost for the city and a lucrative development deal that would continue to churn out money for years to come.

On sunny afternoons when there's a slight breeze wafting over the delta, it certainly seems as though prime waterfront land is wasting away while the city scrounges for money to erase considerable debt brought on by redevelopment investments that haven't yet panned out.

Only a few yards farther inland lies Adams Marine, a boat dealership and repair shop whose owners now want to expand. Looking across the marsh toward the Sacramento River, however, reveals nothing but open space and the purple silhouette of Mt. Diablo.

For several years, the city has resisted selling the waterfront parcel just beyond the end of the boat slips, but is now considering letting it go. Mayor Jim Spering and senior staffers met with Bill Adams, owner of Adams Marine, last year to discuss terms of a sale.

Adams and Scaff worked out an arrangement that would allow Adams to expand his business to a certain point and give Scaff the room he needed to construct a two-story building right on the water. They would invest more than $3.5 million in the project, they said.

But just as Adams thought he had a deal in hand to buy the waterfront property and the leased land on which his business rests, the secret was blown; another development firm made a bid for the land.

Development consortium Ballman, Jensen and Pitcher came forward with a vision of eight executive homes with designated work spaces on the bottom floor. Similar live-work spaces in the adjacent Promenade subdivision sell for upwards of $1 million.

Right now, the city hasn't given its full support to either proposal. But some members of the City Council have said Adams should at least get a chance to expand his business. After all, Spering said, he's already invested there.

But Ballman, Jensen and Pitcher are doing all they can to open the city's ears to their proposal to build homes on the land. They unveiled their design plans to the City Council last week.

Jim Pitcher said his group needs the entire waterfront parcel, including the portion for the Adams Marine expansion, to make the residential development feasible. His partners agreed, and said the city should resist playing favorites and instead choose the project that makes the most sense.

"We're not interested in public property being wheeled and dealed to one party," James Jensen said. "Both projects need an equal opportunity."

Adams feels he should get first dibs because he's been offering to buy it ever since he opened the boat shop six years ago. But he also realizes land deals with government agencies don't always hinge on his style of logic.

"What we've got right now is a vision," he said. "If the city can get behind it, it's going to happen. If they don't, it won't."

Both factions say something should be built on the remaining waterfront property to spur economic growth in that part of town. They have different opinions, however, on what type of development would attract more attention to the area.

To John Scaff, the real estate investor who also manages Pacific Security Realty in Fairfield, the answer is obvious.

"You bring in a nationally known restaurant, with a lounge upstairs and porches hanging over the water, people from the Bay Area will say, 'Hey, let's go up to Suisun and spend a few days there.' It's becomes a destination," he said. "But it needs something great to anchor it."

Scaff and Adams say they could start construction as early as November, if the city is willing.

The whole thing could open for business in two years, Scaff said.

"The city is always talking about not having enough money, and this would bring in revenue right now and every year afterward," Adams said with a glance toward the open space preserves west of Suisun City. "It's time to finish off the waterfront."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

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