The Resilient Bay Area
United Growth's CEO Brad LaRue says the Bay Area's success is fueled by technology, tourism and transit-oriented development. "Outside of this little 7 by 7," however, it's a much slower and longer curve of growth -- even in Silicon Valley. The retail picture isn't as bright in other parts of the country, with big boxes sitting vacant on the coast in Florida. The challenge in the Bay Area, he says, is the bureaucracy driving a lengthy entitlements process. Brad's development company is getting creative with its projects, recently replacing a gas station with a Chase branch on El Camino Real in Santa Clara.
Read Investments' Morgan Read is focused on neighborhood shopping centers and has a couple projects in play in Berkeley, where he's testing out a new branding concept called SOFO, short for "South of Fourth". (Watch out, SoMa.) He invited the crowd to Sierra Nevada's first tasting room that's about to open in one of Read's buildings. He says grocery stores are well insulated and "necessity-based" retailers (wait -- beer isn't a necessity?). He doesn't see delivery trucks replacing brick-and-mortar grocery stores any time soon. While he'd like to pursue more investment opportunities in the Bay Area, he's getting priced out of the competitive market by others who can do it faster.
San Francisco Office of Economic & Workforce Development's director Todd Rufo says the city is focused on connecting residents to retail jobs, noting the success of huge hiring events for the new Target and Union Square's Uniqlo. He touched on surrounding retail at the Warriors pavilion, which is shooting for a 2017 opening. The city is spending a lot of its "brain power" on transportation, he says, to make sure the system can handle all the foot traffic and activities. The pavilion would sit near the city's core transportation infrastructure, and outside of Madison Square Garden, he can't think of better proximity to public transit.