Article - Office of College Advancement

Ohlone rejects frontage proposals

Developers offered inadequate bids, trustees say

By Todd R. Brown, Staff writer.

Friday, December 21, 2007—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Thanks, but no thanks—that's what the Ohlone College board told the two firms hoping to turn a strip of land on the Fremont campus into housing and retail, bringing the project to a standstill.

"Frankly, we were stunned," said Gary Hansen, managing partner at Aspen Group, the high bidder and a contender two years ago, when the college last solicited developers. "You can understand why the district has not been able to get anyone to build on the property."

Hansen, whose San Jose firm calculated about $1.5 million in yearly revenue for Ohlone in its plan, said Thursday that the 19-acre property along Mission Boulevard presents a challenge on many fronts, including both traffic congestion and isolation.

Yet, despite growing worries about a recession next year, he said his firm proposed a diverse commercial component and was able to get two housing builders on board.

"The fact that we had two extra good 'people' to develop residential on the property is a miracle at all," he said. "Those just don't show up every day."

Asked if Aspen would try again to satisfy the board's vision of a lucrative campus gateway on the land, he said: "It's like saying, do you still want to buy a ticket on the Titanic, or do you want to stay on the sidelines until it sinks?"

At Wednesday night's board meeting, trustees said they were disappointed by the dearth of bids and the content of those they received.

"There's some nice renderings and nice ideas that they presented," trustee Bill McMillin said. "This just didn't meet all the criteria that I think the board and the community wanted. We decided not to move forward." The trustees said they would revisit the project after the holidays and try to understand why only two out of about 40 developers that looked at the frontage property made bids.

With Aspen's proposal pledging more than twice as much revenue over 60 years as the other—a plan by Clark Realty Capital of Monterey netting $600,000 a year for Ohlone—the process wasn't much of a competition, either.

"All of us were expecting more of a response," trustee Trisha Tahmasbi said. "Really, I don't feel like we had a choice."

The board asked developers to come up with mixed-use ideas for the landmark area to make it both a symbolic gateway to the Fremont campus and an income source for building upkeep and other needs.

Both firms submitted Mission-style construction plans for various shops, a grocery store and housing for students, teachers, seniors and others in the Mission San Jose neighborhood. But college officials wanted something more.

"They didn't sell us," said Doug Treadway, Ohlone's president and superintendent. "It just didn't go the full measure."

He said he wonders if the college could serve as its own developer by hiring contractors to realize an iconic vision for the land. Meanwhile, he plans to talk with the holdouts about why they didn't apply.

Garrett Yee, the newly minted board president, said the trustees ultimately felt they had too little to go on from the high bidder's proposal and worried whether the college would be liable if something fell through.

He compared the process with the last time bids were solicited. Then, he said, Sobrato Development Cos. emerged as the winner and described the firm's namesake leader as "a standup guy—everything he does, he does great."

This time, Yee said: "We didn't have that. The partners were unknown. It's like getting married. It's a long-term commitment. You've got to feel comfortable, upfront, in all areas."

Hansen's firm was part of The Ohlone Team, the No. 2 contender behind Cupertino-based Sobrato, whose deal with the college fell through this year.

"Maybe the property isn't indicative of one they can get more bids on," Hansen said. "If the Sobrato people … couldn't make it—one of best in valley—who do they turn to next?"

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers Newark, Ohlone College and ethnic community issues. Reach him at 510-353-7004 or todd.brown@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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