Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What I Wish I'd Said to the City Council

I attended a Fremont City Council meeting on March 18, 2008 where the future of the "Unified Site" was discussed. Read the online report of the Fremont Bulletin which summarizes it well: Centerville Unified site starts from scratch again. Before the City Council discussion, cards were passed out for any community members who wished to speak. I didn't fill out a card because I am not a Fremont resident and I felt very alone with what was on my heart to say. So I just listened to the interaction, but my heart was burning with a message. Here is what I would have said if given the opportunity to speak.
Honorable Mayor Wasserman and City Council members, staff, developers, and community members…

A common frustration was aptly summarized by Mayor Wasserman when he referred to the eight years of Unified Site dead-end discussions as "whipping a dead horse." He also made an appeal for fresh new ideas. I would like to suggest a new fresh horse, capable of pulling the Centerville "cart" into a prosperous future.

Once I received a pearl of vocational advice: "Don't just do something you can do; Find a job doing something that ONLY you can do." Following this advice led to my current strategic work as "Bridge Building Facilitator," building better understanding between Muslims and Christians. So how does this pearl of advice apply to the Unified Site? "Don't just do something you can do with this site" (retail, housing, mixed use, park, etc.). "Do something that ONLY the City of Fremont can do…" And what are the unique factors that ONLY apply to this site?

I see two unique factors working together. To emphasize the synergy and potential of these two components I would name the new horse "Binary Star" and the cart is "Tourism." Only Fremont offers the world these two attractions: Little Kabul and Centerville. Taken apart they could be seen as competitive identities, but working together as complementary brand names they could revitalize a blighted area and attract thousands of Bay Area tourists.

A recent chapter of Centerville history could tell of a community that welcomed Afghan refugees starting in the 1980's. Centerville's economic blight of those days made it attractive for enterprising Afghans to start businesses. It is a refugee success story which is still being written. The future chapters could include how the "Little Kabul" identity was welcomed alongside "Historic Centerville" as the "binary star" economic engine that transformed and revitalized this district.

How could this look? The primary tourist showpiece, built on the 6.6 acres of the Unified Site, would capitalize on the branding of "Little Kabul." A developer/management partnership would need to oversee the whole region, including the Centerville section located along Fremont Boulevard from the train station to Parrish Ave. Obviously this would require the cooperation and partnership of the several property owners in this business district. The Centerville tourist development would preserve some historic sites (like the theatre), but most of the area would be completely rebuilt on the themes of Old California.

For now a possible action could be for the City to commission scientific studies of the feasibility and scope of developing a world-class tourist attraction in Centerville. I would suggest commissioning Economic Research Associates (ERA, http://www.econres.com/ ) to do this study and also form a Business Interest Distict (BID, see Wikipedia on BID ) to encourage the participation of all the affected property owners. Perhaps if the City cannot justify the estimated $60,000 for ERA to do a preliminary feasibility study, then the BID partners can finance this step.

As a final word, I hope you will take action and not repeat the mistake of my friends in Bahrain where I worked in the 1980's as a tourism consultant. Bahrain had the opportunity to develop as the tourist/stopover destination in the Persian Gulf. They hesitated and now Dubai fills that role and Bahrain is playing catch up.

Thank you for hearing me on this "binary star" tourist attraction. I hope you will consider this vision and do something that only Fremont can do. It would bring positive attention to Fremont if the city officials were to even consider this possibility. Fremont could be known as the city which honored displaced Afghans and prospered as a result.

1 comment:

Elita said...

Good for people to know.