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Walnut Creek Thinks Big

Coming soon: A more urban suburb.

The Brio

The Brio 

 

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Given the labyrinth of construction sites that is downtown Walnut Creek, it’s pretty obvious that the city is undergoing major changes. Probably the most prominent is the $250 million renovation ordered by the Macerich corporation for Broadway Plaza, the city’s best-known mall. Anchor stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus will be joined by 230,000 square feet of new restaurants and retail, large pedestrian-friendly areas, and more parking with easier access. The Broadway Plaza facelift is one of many Walnut Creek projects designed to appeal to a new kind of suburban resident—the kind who sees the formerly sleepy small town as an epicenter of dining, shopping, and nightlife.

“We are becoming more urban. As we’re running out of real estate and becoming more dense, we have to think differently,” says developer Brian Hirahara, a Walnut Creek native and the driving force behind several successful Walnut Creek restaurants. “People who used to drive to a restaurant and park right in front of it aren’t going to have that anymore. There will be growing pains, but with those pains come many positives: better dining, better retail, and lifestyle living right here in downtown Walnut Creek.”

To Hirahara’s point, luxury low-rise apartment buildings are sprouting up all over town. Around 1,500 new residences are scheduled to open over the next seven years, intended to appeal to high-tech workers and a young demographic who’ve been priced out of San Francisco’s rental market. The first to open, Brio, charges $2,4750 to $2,755 per month for a one-bedroom unit—accompanied by such amenities as a communal wine lounge with private lockers and a “resort-inspired pool and spa.” So far, the perks seem to be doing their job: Many of Brio’s residents work in San Francisco, commuting from the BART station two and a half blocks away from their home.

“These developments will change the city without changing the overall population significantly,” says Walnut Creek city council member Cindy Silva. “Concentrating on multifamily growth downtown preserves our single-family neighborhoods and our open space. It just changes the number of people living downtown, which supports the downtown economic environment.”

Hirahara plans to open an upscale two-story restaurant complex this fall on the corner of Mount Diablo Boulevard and Main Street—a rooftop restaurant and garden, a second-floor Spanish tapas eatery, and a ground-floor takeout café. It’s his hope that the fresh Walnut Creek residents will become its patrons. “There’s a great likelihood that new residents, who are maybe going out to eat at 9:30 or 10 p.m., will be staying here in Walnut Creek instead of going through the Caldecott Tunnel for that experience,” says Hirahara. “In the past, if you heard people from Walnut Creek say, ‘We’re getting dinner in the city tonight,’ without a doubt they meant San Francisco. But now—and, I think, moving forward—they mean that they’re dining in Walnut Creek.”

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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