Saturday, June 17, 2006
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer
Rewarding results from more than 20 years of redevelopment efforts are increasingly tangible in Suisun City's waterfront area.
A quick glance at the dramatic "before and after" photos makes plain the once grim, crime-ridden area has undergone an incredible transformation through the years into a charming little waterfront and marina peppered with alluring shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Debuting just days ago, in fact, was www.suisunwaterfront.com - a new Website dedicated to the waterfront, its businesses and numerous outdoor markets and events, as well as its history and redevelopment. The site is just one of the projects of the Suisun Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District, a consortium of the area's business owners who've been working hard for several years to brand and promote Suisun City.
Their (voluntary) efforts in tandem with city's seem to be working. The marina's vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the county, with its guest dock frequently full on weekends. Events are well attended - more than 15,000 are estimated to have visited last year's Fourth of July festivities. And more development is in the pipeline.
"It's a huge difference," acknowledged Scott Corey, Suisun City spokesman.
Corey explained the area had its beginnings as an industrial shipping center, as ships from San Francisco would arrive to procure goods from surrounding valleys, but the harbor was eventually bypassed by the interstate highway system, and as shipping declined, Corey said, "everything just sort of changed."
"The waterfront became the place where you put everything you didn't want to see anywhere else in town," he said, "so what we ended up with were a bunch of industrial uses and various things that just don't scream out this is a beautiful place to be."
Furthermore, he noted, the marina was riddled with dilapidated docks and partially sunken boats and was bordered by "The Crescent" - a high-density, high-crime neighborhood that consumed well over half of the city's law enforcement budget.
"It just was not a good place to be," Corey said.
The city decided to step in, he explained, and set up a redevelopment agency in the early '80s. Bonds to the tune of $60 million were issued to pay for the extensive make-over. Much property was purchased, cleared and cleaned, Crescent residents were relocated as the neighborhood was demolished, and the marina infrastructure was created.
A 5,000-foot waterfront promenade was built, as was a downtown plaza with outdoor stage, a 170-seat theater, and new pedestrian oriented residential neighborhoods including live/work units.
"Really, we just started pouring investment into the downtown," Corey said, noting that a good deal of that investment - such as dredging the harbor and constructing sea walls - is literally underground.
The city's substantial investment and commitment to its vision of the waterfront as an attraction convinced many business owners and investors to "Rediscover Suisun" - as the slogan conceived by the business improvement district urges.
That's one of two reasons The Wiseman Company developed One Harbor Center, a 50,000-square foot, three-story, upscale office building that overlooks the water.
President Doyle Wiseman explained that the city's positive attitude about redevelopment was a major attraction. "You had the feeling that it's only going to get better," he said. "That was a factor - that local government, particularly for such a small city, has been very effective. It's a can-do government."
Corey confirmed, "It is the high priority project for us, from the city council on down."
And the other reason The Wiseman Co. believed Suisun City to be a sound investment?
"The Suisun City waterfront is very unique in the county - there's nothing else like it," Wiseman said. "It's just a wonderful place to go every day. People like being there."
Michelle Hicks, owner of waterfront business Yoga Junction, concurs.
"I grew up in Vacaville," she noted, "and Suisun had always been an armpit, where you never wanted to go. I hadn't visited there in a long time even though I live in Cordelia."
As she looked for a new home for her yoga studio, she said, "Something told me to go visit. I went to lunch at the Athenian Grill and I was blown away by how beautiful they had made downtown Suisun."
The feel of the revitalized waterfront area, coupled with its numerous festivals, Hicks said, made her want to join the community.
"I'm delighted to be a part of it and I think it's only going to get better," she said. "It's exciting to see a town turn itself around and they've really done a good job. I think there's still lot of people who don't realize, like I didn't, what it's become. So many people still don't know where Suisun is, and I think that's going to change. I think it's going to be a real hub for people."
As does Shelly Kontogiannis, president of the Suisun Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District, and owner of the Athenian Grill located in Harbor Plaza. The second building on the waterfront, the Athenian Grill has been operating successfully for nine years, and its property value has more than doubled, Kontogiannis said.
"It's just going to get better as time goes on and the development is happening," she asserted.
She is referring to the Main Street West project, which entails redevelopment of 13 parcels near the waterfront, Main Street and Civic Center Boulevard by Main Street West Partners, LLC.
The centerpiece of the project, which will likely break ground in late August, will be several two-story mixed-used buildings constructed in a plaza-style fashion on the corner of Solano and Main streets.
Completion of the first phase of the Main Street West project, Corey said, will work as a catalyst for redevelopment of neighboring parcels.
Similar sentiments were shared by Garry Rowe, who runs Family Values Magazine from one of the live/work units bordering the promenade.
"Main Street West is going to break the whole thing open," Rowe predicted. "I think 2010 is really going to be our year - you'll see a vibrant downtown where on a Friday or Saturday night you're going to have a hard time getting into a restaurant, you're going to see a lot of people walking around having a good time, you'll see people in public courtyards enjoying music or strolling up the promenade."
In the next two years alone, Rowe, said, "We're anticipating space for 30-40 new businesses."
The challenge, Corey noted, is in ensuring that good development decisions are made, and the city is being very selective about what fills the waterfront space, working closely with Main Street West Partners.
"We're at this juncture. We've done all the sort of heavy-lifting, major investments into the waterfront," he said. "We've created a terrific environment, an environment people want to go to, a place that's now economically viable. We have the assets. Now we're moving into that phase of putting in the things we'd always envisioned here, making it a destination."
Amanda Janis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Keeping wildlife wild -- Suisun center takes care of orphaned critters then releases them back into animal kingdom
By Barry Eberling
SUISUN CITY - Morning arrives at the Wildlife Center and the orphaned baby birds chirp for food.
Center rehabilitation director Cindy Forrest and a group of volunteers are the surrogate mothers. They arrive with what Forrest calls "mockingbird mush" - ferret chow, apples, grapes, ground beef and other ingredients mixed together into a brown concoction.
That diet suits the small scrub jays, meadowlarks and sparrows just fine. Every half-hour or so, they want another dab of mush served into their beaks by way of syringe or tweezers. The demand is relentless.
"We just fed him," volunteer Melissa Ruth said as one bird continued opening its mouth.
"He's convinced he's still hungry," volunteer Pamela Schmuhl said.
Warm weather is here and so are orphaned baby birds, squirrels, raccoons and other creatures. The Wildlife Center near the boat ramp in Suisun City's Old Town cares for them until they can make it on their own.
Some people question exerting so much effort on wildlife when there are needy humans, said Monique Liguori, executive director of the Suisun Marsh Natural History Association, which runs the center. Probably 90 percent of the creatures are at the center because they've been affected by people, she said.
"It's kind of incumbent on us to fix that, if we can," Liguori said.
So the center takes in about 2,000 creatures annually. They range from a baby raccoon found in an attic after the owners scared the mother away to a crow that had its tail feathers clipped, from birds caught by cats to birds hit by cars.
Forrest and her volunteers aren't out to make friends with the birds and animals. That's not the payoff they get for their work.
"You have to remember, it's a wild animal," Schmuhl said. "You're not trying to make it a pet. You're trying to get it healthy again and get it out."
That's the altruistic payoff: Arriving at the center one day, finding an animal or bird gone and knowing it's back in the wild.
"I get to help them feel better and get their strength back and let them go to the wild, instead of just being put down," Ruth said.
Schmuhl sees a common link among the Wildlife Center volunteers. Each has a background that includes animals, she said.
"My father's a falconer," Schmuhl said. "I was raised around birds of prey."
Ruth grew up with pets ranging from rabbits to hamsters to birds to a dog. Her family visited the Wildlife Center when she was a child and she wanted to help, but had to wait several years until she reached the minimum 16 years of age for volunteers. She is now 18.
Nature can be gritty and so can some scenes at the Wildlife Center, though volunteers can avoid the chores that might make them queasy.
Three white-tailed kites there on a recent day craved mice. Schmuhl took some live mice from a terrarium, gassed them and cut them in half. Then she served them up on plastic plates to the birds, along with a sprinkling of vitamin powder.
Besides the orphaned and hurt animals, the Wildlife Center has a few permanent residents. Among them is Sedit the coyote, who lives in a large, outdoor cage. Sedit was raised to be a pet, until the owner ultimately gave up on the idea.
"There's nothing terribly wrong with her, but she doesn't know how to live on her own," Schmuhl said. "She has no hunting skills. She has no natural way to defend herself."
Ruth petted Sedit and the coyote enjoyed the moment, looking as tame as a big dog. Things changed quickly when Schmuhl turned on a hose. Suddenly, Sedit started growling and chasing its tail, making circles. It occasionally growled and approached Schmuhl, who reacted calmly and cautiously.
"She's a coyote," Schmuhl said. "You never forget who you're with."
The day moved on at the Wildlife Center - feeding baby birds, mopping the floor, feeding baby squirrels, feeding baby birds again, doing laundry, feeding baby birds yet again. Jessica Dunlap arrived to help. She's a University of California, Davis, student who wants to be a veterinarian and who is an intern at the center.
Someone called the center for advice. Forrest talked to a person who had found a fawn with no mother in sight and who wondered if the fawn needed help.
"Chances are the mom is around," Forrest said. "The best thing you can do for that baby is leave it be."
She gives similar advice to people who find baby birds on the ground. Don't bring them to the center, put them back in the nest or tree, Forrest said. Forget the notion mother birds will reject babies touched by humans, she said.
"It's an old wive's tale," Forrest said. "I grew up with the same idea."
The Wildlife Center is ready to help orphaned creatures. But it isn't out to replace the mothers of the animal kingdom.
Forrest described the center and its volunteers as pinchhitters.
Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at email@example.com.
Tips for handling baby wildlife
-- Put uninjured baby birds found on the ground back in the nest or tree. The mother bird won't reject them because of human scent.
-- Be careful about removing baby jackrabbits or fawns. In both cases, the mother leaves them to feed. Bring them to the Wildlife Center only if you are certain the mother will never return.
-- Don't try to handle large animals, skunks and bats. Call Solano County Animal Control at 421-7468.
-- If you try to capture a small animal, use gloves and protect your eyes. The best way to catch a small animal is to toss a towel or blanket over it and place it quickly and gently in a cardboard box.
Source: Wildlife Center
What you can do
The Wildlife Center needs volunteers. People can help with such things as wildlife care, field trips, slide shows and lectures, clerical and reception work, carpentry and construction, clean-up days, fund-raising, publicity and newsletters.
To reach the Wildlife Center, please call 429-4295. It is located at 1171 Kellogg St. in Suisun City. Its Web site is www.suisunwildlife.org/wildmain.html.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Teams by Design, a family business located on Suisun City's up-and-coming waterfront business district, has been named the region's 2006 Small Business of Year. Honored at the recent California Small Business Day gathering in Sacramento, the firm, owned by Connie Tualla and her husband, Ed, was nominated by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Solano.
"The Tuallas have a strong ethic and a strong sense of community," noted Wolk. "They support the Suisun Little League, the local Boy Scouts. They are active in local chambers of commerce. They are a model local business."
The couple started the company in 1999, specializing in custom embroidery and silk screening. They ran the business out of their home in Vacaville until December 2001, when they opened a store on the waterfront in Suisun City.
"We wanted to have our own retail storefront," said Connie Tualla. "So we worked with a consultant, put together a business and finance plan, and made it happen."
Expansion is already in the updated business plan, she said. They continually add new local customers and recently signed a nationwide contract.
Chuck Eason, director of Solano Community College's Small Business Development Center, said the couple gives back, which is a smart business practice. "The Tuallas are very active in their community," he said. "I've worked with them for nearly two years. They are great clients and big supporters of our program, always there to help other entrepreneurs."
Friday, June 2, 2006
By Nathan Halverson
SUISUN CITY - Suisun City resident Donna Whited noticed a small billow of smoke coming from her neighbor's garage while sitting in her dining room about 9 a.m. Thursday.
Whited immediately called 911 and then stepped outside to see if she could see any flames.
"By the time I got outside there were explosions and the garage was in flames," Whited said.
Within minutes flames engulfed the two-story home at 927 Steller Way, moving from the garage into the home, according to neighbors and firefighters. No one appeared to be home when the blaze started in the southwest corner of the garage, and no injuries were reported. The accidental fire started from an electric failure on a freezer located in the garage, according to Suisun City Fire Department Captain Gregory Bounds.
The fire was a testament to just how fast a home can go up in flames.
The fire station at 621 Pintail Drive - located only half a mile from the house fire - received the call shortly after Whited dialed 911. Within minutes they were at the fire, but by then the house was a raging blaze.
"It looks like the garage had quite a few things that helped it along," Bounds said. "Our station is just right around the corner."
The garage didn't have sheetrock, which helps retard flames, and the blaze quickly fed on the wood studs, Bounds said.
"It had exposed wood, which is basically like toothpicks to a fire," he said. "It went up quick."
The house was nearly destroyed. Only a black ember shell remained where the garage stood. And the second story and attic were totally engulfed in flames, leaving little or nothing to salvage.
Firefighters first controlled the blaze with two hoses, spraying water on the garage before two firefighters moved into the house through the front door.
"We entered the front door and explosions were going off," said Kevin Shepard, one of the two firefighters. "It was shaking us bad. Literally the ground was shaking and vibrating."
In a stark description of how uninhabitable a home is during a fire, Shepard said the black smoke was so thick he and the other firefighter, who were breathing from oxygen tanks, were essentially in complete darkness and navigated by running their hands along the wall.
The blaze was under control in about half an hour. But pockets of flames still burned in the charred house nearly 90 minutes after Whited called 911.
Neighbor Rick Pangelinan, whose house is located only about 20 feet from the burned-out garage, thanked Whited for spotting the smoke early.
"Lucky Donna saw it fast, because my house was going to be next," he said.
Nathan Halverson can be reached at 427-6934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.