Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Developing Golden Gate Fields in Albany

Right down the street from my office, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is looking to develop a 45-acre site on the North side of Golden Gate Fields into a proposed $200 million "lifestyle center".

The track, located in Albany and owned by Magna Entertainment, has been battling declining attendance and it looks like there's a battle shaping up to decide what will become of the space it now occupies.

In recent weeks, Caruso has presented preliminary plans for an upscale retail complex, with plazas, a farmers' market, outdoor dining overlooking the bay -- and perhaps a hotel, a five-level parking lot and as many as 200 apartments with concierge and maid service.

Some Albany residents are thrilled by what they've seen, saying they would love to be able to stay in town for shopping and entertainment.

Even though it's estimated that the Albany project would generate $2 million in new tax revenue annually for a city with a current general fund of $11 million, opponents fear the project will mar the waterfront with a commercial enterprise of questionable aesthetics.

"I know they are trying to create this small-town ambience with their architecture, which I think is totally fake," said Kathy Farley, an interior designer. "To me, it's like Disneyland."

"We're adamantly opposed. We're going to fight. We just can't roll over for this," said former Mayor Robert Cheasty.

I know the race track is beautiful and all, but if Caruso is willing to listen to residents in order to tailor his project to local aesthetics why not explore the possibilities.

"Tell me what you want, and we'll see what we can do," he told a small group of residents during a recent gathering in a supporter's home, where attendees munched on homemade brownies while Caruso and several consultants displayed renditions of the proposed mall on a portable screen.

Although I feel that I need some more information before coming down on one side or the other, my gut reaction tells me to support it. What do you think?