Exclusive Q&A: Sunset Development's Alexander Mehran Jr On Transforming San Ramon
San Ramon-based Sunset Development has taken on one of the most ambitious projects the city has ever seen, expanding beyond the 585-acre Bishop Ranch office park to focus on creating a walkable downtown the community has been lacking. With $1.5B worth of projects underway to bring retail, restaurants, apartments and a new City Hall to the area, the hope is to create a live/work/play environment in San Ramon.
We caught up with Sunset Development president Alexander Mehran Jr. (above with his dad, Alexander Mehran Sr.) to find out more about Bishop Ranch, City Center and making time for family.
Bisnow: Do you see Bishop Ranch as the start of changing San Ramon's appeal?
Alex Mehran: Suburban places like San Ramon are appealing for different reasons than the projects that are popular in the press today. Suburban places are a compromise, and historically there has not been a more appealing compromise than San Ramon, when you compare Bay Area suburbs pound for pound on schools, safety and affordability. It is true that there are some non-cyclical changes that have happened, most notably the desire to trade square footage for walkability.
In our view, the much larger influence over the last decade has been cyclical. Boomers became empty nesters and Millennials got out of college, waiting to get married and have kids. The pendulum is swinging, though, and we feel San Ramon remains the most appealing compromise for young families that can no longer sustain life in the cities.
We don’t want to change our appeal, but we want to narrow the compromise from urban life by creating a walkable district that is "amenitized" with the right kinds of retail and entertainment and planned in a focused manner with smaller, more affordable, proximate rental opportunities. It is tough to create something authentic overnight where a beautiful pear orchard was growing just a few decades ago, but we hope several decades from now it will be viewed that way.
Bisnow: What do you envision for San Ramon? Is the time right for mixed-use development (including City Center Bishop Ranch, above) with live/work/play aspects there?
Alex Mehran: Yes. But we are looking to develop mixed-use horizontally. We have the space so there is no need to spend the extra money just to have noisy apartments and a net reduction in identity. We think that identity is the key ingredient in areas like ours and it has been an area of great focus with our architects, Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
Bisnow: Amenities offered at Bishop Ranch range from farmers markets to an on-site fitness studio to food trucks. What helped drive the decision on what to include?
Alex Mehran: I would love to say that we had a strategic plan, but we don’t! We keep our eyes open for high-quality operators that will deliver amenities our tenants love and find useful, but also meet our quality standards. These services make the difference between Bishop Ranch and a more normal suburban office building. If you are living and working in the Bay Area suburbs, it is a good bet that you have a family and are operating on a dual income to make ends meet. We want to make that life healthier, more productive and more fun.
Bisnow: The new city hall is scheduled to open next month, demolition has started in preparation for City Center (above), and more is in the works. What about these new projects is the most exciting to you?
Alex Mehran: The thing I love the most is seeing our team work together and achieve great results. I come up with some of the ideas, but they come up with a lot too and they execute, which is the hard part. We are also a general contractor building the buildings so they are responsible and accountable for it all, from design and entitlement to construction, leasing, property management and finance.
Bisnow: How do you see the end result of these projects appealing to Millennials?
Alex Mehran: The projects cater to changing desires of all people. It's not just Millennials that want to have a more efficient lifestyle where they can work, shop, eat and live in a more focused and high-quality area. It makes sense for everyone, unless having a big house is really important to you. We think demographic changes are going to force Millennials to make the same compromises that Americans have made since the 1950s. We just want to narrow the compromise.
Bisnow: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?
Alex Mehran: My favorite sport is racing sailboats in the ocean solo or with a partner, but I have put that on hold while my wife and I raise our young children. Hanging out with them is my favorite thing now, and if I can, I try to squeeze in a bike ride on Mount Diablo.