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EXCLUSIVE: Huge Bay Area Mall Hits Market As Potential Biotech Hub

The owner of Richmond's 78-acre Hilltop Mall property is taking it down a new path in an abrupt, coronavirus pandemic-induced change of plans.

LBG Real Estate Cos. is looking to sell its 1.2M SF Shops at Hilltop property as a future East Bay science and technology center, the company told Bisnow Thursday. Led by Newmark Knight Frank Vice Chairmen Steven Golubchik and Nicholas Bicardo, marketing of the East Bay property will officially begin Friday, according to LBG Managing Partner Leslie Lundin.

Richmond's 78-acre Hilltop Mall property has hit the market, with owner LBG Real Estate Cos. highlighting it as a future East Bay science and technology center.

LBG's decision marks a relatively sudden turn of events for the Hilltop property caused in large part by the coronavirus pandemic, LBG Managing Partner Doug Beiswenger told Bisnow in an interview.

"We think it's an opportune time with how things have changed with COVID. Needless to say, the office market is moving quickly from city centers to more suburban locations," Beiswenger said. "From the life sciences and biotech perspective, it's all of those things, plus the biotech industry is on an absolute tear, and we don't expect that to change."

The move is also reflective of brick-and-mortar retail's accelerated decline, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Beiswenger said the West Coast shopping center owner's evolving plans for Hilltop tended to involve a decreasing amount of retail through the years. 

LBG acquired the already struggling property in 2017 with plans for both a new roster of retail tenants at the 1M-plus SF mall and thousands of new homes. But by June, the company was looking at redeveloping a chunk of the property into 800K SF of offices, Bisnow reported at the time

Now, LBG said it envisions Hilltop having 100K SF to 150K SF of retail serving mostly as an amenity for Hilltop's other uses, according to Beiswenger.

"Whereas before, the retail would have been the anchor to a development like this 10 years ago, now the retail development will be much smaller and be an amenity," Beiswenger said. 

The property is zoned as commercial mixed-use, allowing for retail, office, hotel, life sciences and residential uses. It is entitled for as much as 16.7M SF of building area, which would allow for as many as 9,760 units. Beiswenger said LBG is open to partial sales and also a lease or master-lease agreement and to staying on and developing part of the property.

Given the property's flexible zoning, Beiswenger said LBG expects life sciences and tech-oriented buyers and tenants to show interest, as well as residential developers and master-planned community developers. It has not yet set a price for the property. 

"We're open to all these alternatives depending on the larger users' needs for the properties," he said.

Hilltop is currently 16% occupied, and it is LBG's intent to deliver it "primarily vacant" to give investors an "ideal canvas to create a premier mixed-use community," according to marketing materials for the property.