The Nimitz Group has said they want more community meetings to keep Vallejo residents and other interested parties updated on the process of re-creating Mare Island. On Tuesday the first meeting was held and if there was a consensus of opinion, it may have been that the firm selected to develop the former Naval shipyard knows what they're doing.
HOK was introduced to the standing room only crowd that filled a Coal Shed room to give people an idea of how they go about creating transformation --how the firm's experts look at a site and imagine it into the future. The 53-year-old, San Francisco-based, global planning and urban design, landscape and architecture firm, with more than 1,700 people in 24 cities across the world, is the winner of the AIA California 2019 Design Firm of the Year Award. It's one of a slew of awards the firm has won, according to its website.
With some visual aids strategically placed around the room, Several members of the HOK team explained how they strategized a number of projects with some aspect or other similar to what they believe they're facing with the Mare Island project.
Their vision for Mare Island --which will be developed with input from residents here --will focus on sustainability, wellness, transportation and historic reuse, they said.
Nimitz Group's Nathan Bergeron, kicked off the event saying the company knows and plans to answer the three big questions people here have: when will things get started? What will this project do to traffic? And what impact will it have on my business and my residence?
He noted that the groups partners are aware that there have been false starts before, and assured the crowd that the group is "all in" and "in it for the long haul."
That's why they went shopping for a firm that specializes in developing communities and said HOK seemed to display the appropriate amount of excitement for and commitment to the project.
Brian Jencek, HOK's director of planning, along with a project manager, Rae Smith and a planner, Kathy Doi, took the crowd through an overview of their process, saying "this is the beginning of a conversation; the beginning of a dialogue, that will last months and years."
After a brief history of the company, the crowd learned about the master planning process, and were assured they'd be kept informed through a series of workshops on issues like land use, transportation and open spaces.
The thinking and strategies that went into projects HOK has done or is doing in Hong Kong, London, Dubai and elsewhere were explained, in light of their similarities with Mare Island, like being "a unique space," with a waterfront and historical structures. The planners will be creating their designs with the possible impact of climate change in mind, as well as ensuring community benefits like open space, making the site "walk-able" and economically viable, are "all things that have to be included in the planning," they said. There has to be a balance between housing and employment, they said, and the firm has partners with expertise in transportation and real estate development to cover all the bases.
There will eventually be 3-dimensional artist's renderings as the process goes along, they said.
"We want people to be flocking here, to really love this space," (as is happening at the Hong Kong waterfront the firm designed) Jencek said.
Like in the World Expo space the firm created in Dubai, human comfort is a big consideration for the Mare Island project, the HOK officials said; with elements like shade and wind breaks kept in mind, along with figuring out the right mix of uses and open space. Scale and dimensionality must be considered, as must density and the character, shape and form of buildings.
"People tell me they come to Mare Island because it feels like a big park," Jencek said. "It feels safe and open, and we want to retain that feeling. You're going to be a big part (of this), with your feedback, for tomorrow's Mare Island. We can't predict all the uses that will come to Mare Island in the next 20 to 30 years, but we have to get the framework right."
The plan is to design the new iteration of Mare Island around its natural habitat and existing infrastructure, they said. They will re-imagine uses for historic buildings, including landscaping, while keeping the site's historical nature in mind.
The new Mare Island needs to be inclusive, welcoming, include a good mix of uses while remembering its heritage and celebrating its legacy, they said. There needs to be sufficient employment and housing, and community elements must be accessible.
"Mare Island is a Ghirardelli Square (another of HOK's projects) times 1,000," he said. "Breathe the right set of elements into historic gems for a vibrant new use."
Health and human wellness will also be considered in the process, they said, with sustainability focused on energy and water, social equity and inclusiveness.
HOK officials said they're interested in everyone's ideas to help them create a "vision," and expect "opportunity zones," to help bring the investors needed who are able to see the potential.
Pam Pucci, a title insurance business person from Lafayette said she "loved the presentation," and called HOK's plans "transformative," with the likelihood that the finished project will "be a whole new destination for the Bay Area."
Brian Dodd of Napa said he came away with a similar impression.
"I think they're striking all the right chords --synergy, collaboration," he said. "I remember coming to see the place as a kid. It was supposed to become something 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It seems like these guys are really going to do it. It's really cool to see what smart growth looks like."
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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