By Cesar Zepeda, president of the Hilltop District Homeowners & Stakeholders Association,
The diamond in the rough is starting to shine! After several years, Hilltop Mall is finally officially for sale. This sale will be a significant and vital opportunity for the city of Richmond.
As a community we will be looking for an investor and developer that are open to working with the vision that the community has for the new Hilltop. Our community will glow with prosperity and opportunities that will be shared citywide and even countywide.
Our vision goes beyond wanting a mixed-use project, with shopping and dining on the lower floors, and up above residential, with entertainment areas around the footprint. The community is hungry for change.
The vision includes innovative and creative projects that will help brand our city as the city of economic opportunities and innovation. The task is to pioneer new ways for creating this community. We want people from all over the country to come and use this project as a model.
This can be the most innovative project in the county, with affordable housing, walkable spaces that connect to our current parks, and a live entertainment center that would rival San Francisco’s. The footprint is large enough that we can provide a variety of opportunities while making sure that the surrounding shopping centers thrive together, including downtown Richmond’s Main Street, 23rd Street, and the San Pablo Avenue business corridor. The mall was once blamed for the demise of downtown; however, I believe that our city can have more than one prosperous business and shopping area, with the right vision.
Our city has not had the best reputation. We, as a community, need to make sure that we help change this reputation. When I met with an investor a few months ago he said that his company would never do business in Richmond because nobody would come to Richmond. I was able to help him change his perception and view of our beautiful city. A few hours later, he emailed me and said he and his CEO were very interested in Richmond and want to further look into investing here. I gave them a tour of our area a week ago.
This large project in the middle of Hilltop can bring in visitors from all around the area. It is very important to me that we still keep a place that the local community can call home, a place that locals can go to if they don’t want to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle of visitors. For this, we will create a townlike area in the shopping centers on the outskirts of the mall. It will be a more quaint area where you can grab your morning coffee, do your grocery shopping and be able to get in and out, or have lunch or dinner with family and friends.
My vision, which has been shaped by community input, is to provide options for people who want to visit Hilltop and Richmond. You can come for the new shopping and entertainment experience, or maybe you want to enjoy our parks, start your hike on the Blume Drive Park that we would like to convert to an orchard, then proceed to the Hilltop Lake and enjoy some native wildlife. From there you can visit Vista Del Mar Park, where once complete we will have art pieces showcasing the history of Richmond, all along the Emerald Necklace. If you feel like playing softball or basketball, then you can go to either the Country Club Vista Park or Bay Vista Park. To finish your day, continue your hike to Point Pinole Regional Park, along Atlas Road, and through the new bridge that will connect to the park and the Bay Trail.
If art is more of your taste, then enjoy the artwork that we are looking to get a local artist to create. For now, we have Torque, by the car dealerships, and Solar Cantata, inside of the current mall. We want to put up pieces of art around the area for everyone to enjoy.
I am having conversations with stakeholders about a project that I envision in our area. I have been told that this would be the first time such a project would be built in Northern California. Only one such other project exists, in Los Angeles. This will be a creative approach to a current problem with our lack of affordable housing. More details to come, but it will require various groups to come together and work on this.
Let’s not forget the multitude of job opportunities that are coming to Richmond, and especially the Hilltop area, from retail, warehousing, manufacturing, and tech, with the possibility that Amazon will be building one of their largest warehouses in the West Coast, providing opportunities for working people.
All of this development will require a close eye on the infrastructure of our city and district and making sure that we build the infrastructure alongside all these new developments. We need to work together — businesses, developers, and the community.
Richmond is at a pivotal point of opportunity. With the right innovative and creative vision, our city can provide for all.
This opinion piece was first published by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the Hilltop project, visit www.hdhsa.com.
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