San Ramon's long-awaited City Center Bishop Ranch is now open for business, and Tri-Valley residents have already eagerly begun to explore the community gathering space.
Officially welcoming shoppers and diners with a soft opening Nov. 8, the new retail and entertainment hub by Sunset Development Company consists of 300,000 square feet of space for about 70 stores and restaurants (once fully occupied) as well as a luxury movie theater around a one-acre piazza.
Designed by award-winning international architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop, many may think of City Center as an upscale shopping mall, but the creators took great pains to make the center into a true downtown area for San Ramon.
"We're trying to avoid the traditional sort of shopping center model and create a place that feels a little bit more endearing and beautiful," said Jeff Dodd, City Center's senior vice president of retail, who was feeling a wide range of emotions at the center's opening.
"It's very exciting and panicky," he said, with a chuckle. "We're most excited just to let the public in. For so long it has just been paper and models, and then comes construction and finally you get to the point when you can open the doors and let people in. It's very exciting."
City Center creators did not want the complex to simply be a collection of shops, but a true modern public square for the community to gather.
"It's a commercial place, but it has a distinctly community civic angle to it at the same time. (We want) people to think of it interchangeably as not just a place to consume but also a place just to hang out," Dodd said. "You don't have to consume; you can come and just play around or read the newspaper."
While only a few of the stores are open now -- developers elected for a soft opening, with the majority to begin arriving over the next couple of months -- many residents remain excited as the facilities open, and are eagerly anticipating the opening of the rest.
For one, the outdoor play area -- a turf field located in the central plaza area -- is particularly popular among families and can be found populated with children running around or playing with one of the public games located there.
"Everything is really nice. I really like this play area," said San Ramon resident Sam Pak, who visited for the first time last week with his 3-year-old son, Rainier. "It's like a central court, I don't know if you've heard of the youth district at (the University of Washington) in Seattle, they have something like this. I think they did a really great job here. It's perfect for (kids) to roam around."
As spaces continuously open over the next months, perhaps none is more highly anticipated than renowned Bay Area chef Charles Phan's newest rendition of The Slanted Door.
A spinoff from his acclaimed San Francisco location, Phan said he was inspired by City Center's modern industrial design and worked with architect Olle Lundberg to create his restaurant on the west end of the square, which is expected to open later this month.
He told the Weekly that while he still will offer many classics, he is taking the opportunity to be innovative and try some new ideas.
"We're not just gonna take a Xerox copy of what we are doing over there and stamp it over here," Phan said. "You can always bring back the classic -- we can do that with our eyes closed -- but why don't we try something new first. This is the first time we have the freedom to do something really different."
Moving his new location to the Tri-Valley not only gives Phan the opportunity to free his hand in exploring new culinary innovations, but it will also solve the problem of finding suitable staff for his restaurant by working near prospective employees' homes.
"Now we are having labor issues because it is hard to find workers," Phan said of his other Bay Area location. "People are being priced out of the Bay Area and a lot of our staff already live in this part of the Bay."
While many large, traditional retailers in the area have announced closures recently, such as Orchard Supply Hardware and Sears, City Center's opening will bring a large amount of employment opportunities to the region -- a positive economic impact that should not be forgotten in the excitement, said Dodd.
Dodd estimates that anywhere from 800 to 1,000 residents will work at approximately 70 stores, restaurants and other businesses located inside the complex.
The large number of employees and shoppers expected to frequent City Center once it is fully opened has left some concerned over increased traffic and the availability of parking.
The widening of Bollinger Canyon Road was intentionally done with City Center in mind to reduce anticipated traffic, and developers are convinced adequate parking will be available for patrons.
Much of the parking for the complex has been strategically hidden in structures located behind the metal facade of the complex. Approximately 1,200 parking spaces are located inside and around the complex, hopefully providing more than enough parking for shoppers, Dodd said.
City Center also offers a valet service located on the south side of the complex, for residents who want to get straight to the center.
Shoppers looking for an insider's tip -- courtesy of Alex Mehran Jr., president and chief operating officer of Sunset Development -- are advised to park in the garage entry on the north side of the project off Bishop Drive. Referred to Mehran as the "locals' entrance," parking here would enable residents to avoid the most populated west side entrance near Whole Foods.
Residents who work in one of the nearby Bishop Ranch Business Park office buildings will be able to skip parking and take a shuttle to City Center, cutting down on emissions and traffic congestion. Shuttles will stop at most campuses every 15 minutes and bring employees to and from City Center during the workday.
Various retailers and restaurants throughout the complex are already open, including West Elm, Boba Guys, Fieldwork Brewing Company, On the EDGE, Pottery Barn, Starbucks, the piece. store, and Williams Sonoma, as well as the jewel of City Center, The LOT.
A 10-screen movie theater with restaurant located at the top of the center, The LOT serves as a central place for residents to dine and view the surroundings.
"We don't really see ourselves as a movie theater. We are more of a hospitality, community hub that happens to show movies, you don't have to necessarily watch movies to come here," said Carlos Wellman, managing director for The LOT. "The way we see it, City Center is going to become the staple and the hub of the community and we wanted to be a part of that."
In the coming months, The LOT and the others will be joined by the likes of Anthropologie, Athleta, Curry Up Now, Equinox San Ramon, Mendocino Farms, MIXT, Ramen Hiroshi, and many more.
"Stay tuned, because today's openings are just the first wave in a steady succession of store and restaurant openings planned over the next year. There will be many more reasons for visitors to make City Center a regular part of their itineraries," Mehran said.
Fieldwork Brewing Company
Kin the Label
On the Edge Shoes
the piece. store
World of Monokrome
December: Equinox San Ramon, Roam Artisan Burgers, The Slanted Door.
February: A Social Affair, MIXT.
March: Anthropologie, C Casa, Gio Gelati, Mendocino Farms.
April: Joe & The Juice.
May: Curry Up Now, Delarosa.