Vallejo City Council approves agreement with Nimitz Group over North Mare IslandMay 17 2018
Posted: 05/16/18, 7:20 PM PDT | Updated: 6 hrs ago
The City Council chambers were filled with tears, laughter, and optimism Tuesday night as the council approved an Exclusive Negotiating Rights Agreement with a group looking to bring 1,500 jobs to North Mare Island.
All seven councilmembers expressed excitement with a proposed plan from the Nimitz Group to transform 157 acres of land on the northern portion of the island into a business park.
Led by Dave Phinney, principal of the newly opened Mare Island distillery Savage & Cooke, the group was one of eight applicants to answer a Request for Qualifications released by City Hall last December.
The group has proposed opening a 56-acre media campus for Film Mare Island Film Studio, along with 15 acres for a wine processing facility.
Additional components of the development include office and retail space, and room for manufacturing or industrial businesses.
Phinney, while addressing the council and audience members, said he wanted to do more on the island after receiving “immediate acceptance and cooperation” from City Hall regarding opening the distillery.
He became emotional describing his plans for Mare Island.
“My return on investment,” Phinney said holding back tears, “is going to be 20 years from now, when, hopefully, by then, I have grand kids and I take them down here to Mare Island and Vallejo and I can tell them ‘Hey, you know, your old man had a little something to do with this.’
“There is no monetary return that can better that,” he added.
Ron Gerber, the city’s economic development manager, explained that the Nimitz Group was selected because of Phinney’s experience with the island, the financial capacity of the group, the project’s concept and its fiscal/economic impact to the area, and qualifications of the group.
Included in the team is Gaylon Lawrence Jr., who is one of the nation’s largest farmers with more than 200,000 acres under his ownership.
Gerber also explained that the Nimitz Group presented letters of interest from business for 75 percent of the proposed development, which “reduces risk” for the city and plan overall.
The enthusiastic council called the project “impressive,” with several cautioning that City Hall should continue its due diligence to ensure the project fits the city’s needs.
Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan recalled when the Navy base was open on Mare Island and the heavy traffic it caused near the base’s entrance.
“Then it all disappeared,” he said.
Sampayan mentioned various failed plans over the years for Mare Island, including a film studio, Touro University opening up a cancer research center, and Faraday Future — the Chinese-backed electric car startup.
City Hall’s first sortie with the 157 acres and an exclusive rights negotiation came in May 2016 with Faraday. However, the financial strapped business, which sought to purchase the site for a second production facility, house business and administrative offices, and offer a pick-up location for customers, eventually left the negotiations. However, not before conducting several soil and environmental reports which City Hall received.
“This time it feels different,” the mayor said.
Sampayan cited the Nimitz Group’s passion for the project. He, along with other councilmembers, said they wished to see the group work with fellow Mare Island business, Earthquake Protection Systems (EPS). The business has developed a technology which helps buildings and other structures to better withstand earthquakes.
EPS, which is located in North Mare Island also responded to the RFQ, seeking to expand its business.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Rozzana Verder-Aliga may want to consider a job as an investigator, as she admitted to doing an internet search on Phinney, calling him a “visionary,” with a “beautiful personal story.”
“Not that I’m stalking you,” she quickly added to loud laughter in the chamber.
Councilman Robert McConnell explained that the city’s Planning Commission should be on board with the project.
“If not, come see me,” he added. McConnell said he likes the project which is expected to grow the city’s entertainment industry which will generate living-wage jobs in Vallejo.
The agreement is expected to last six months as both side negotiate over conceptual plans, infrastructure and a possible financing plan, among other items.