Danville Express

Newsfront - October 12, 2007

New anchor tenant opens at Blackhawk Plaza

Owner says Draeger's is just the beginning of revamped center

by Natalie O'Neill

In the East Bay, there's an unfortunate joke about Blackhawk Plaza. Shoppers kid that "you can roll a bowling ball down the center of the mall and not hit anyone." And since the plaza opened in 1989, it's been pretty much the truth.

But not for long, owners say.

Today's grand opening of Draeger's epicurean marketplace will mark the first step in a plan to completely transform the center into a pulsing regional hotspot. The upscale food store opens officially at 7 a.m. today, Friday, Oct. 12.

"It will look like a real shopping center, not the golf club it looks like now. We are going to add the element of fun," said Fred Bruning, president of CenterCal Properties, who has co-owned the plaza for two years.

The revamp will include 15 new tenants, outdoor lighting and fireplaces, colorfully redone store fronts, a refurbished movie theater, sculptures and a play area for kids. It is on schedule to be complete by spring 2008.

The revamp is so large-scale that it is costing owners more than the initial purchase of the plaza back in 2005.

Plaza owners believe opening Draeger's first will be the perfect way to attract the Danville area to the center before the big changes set off a larger draw.

The previous anchor store, Gottschalks department store, brought in about $5 million in sales annually, while the upscale peninsula-based market is expected to generate about $30 million.

"It's the kind of place people want to visit two or three times a week," Bruning said.

The market pays such close attention to food quality that "they'll tell you which local farmer raised that tomato," he added.

Draeger's has undergone interior layout remodeling on the 43,000-square-foot building where Gottschalks once stood. The new construction hasn't expanded the size of the store, but the new layout makes way for Draeger's popular cooking classes, a 3,500-bottle wine selection and a cafe area where people can meet for a meal or just pastries and coffee.

"We've got really nice prepared-food bars, where people can get a quick meal and get out the door," said owner Richard Draeger.

A wide variety of European-style breads and pastries made from scratch, award winning meats, locally grown produce and outstanding wines are what customers can look forward to, Draeger said.

Next, the plaza will welcome retail stores including Anthropologie, Banana Republic, White House Black Market, G.R. Doodlebug and a large Starbucks.

While the initial plan was to get most of the new shops up and running for the Christmas season, the bulk of the openings have been extended to spring 2008. G.R. Doodlebug, a unique toy store that is now located at the Danville Livery, is expected to be in for holiday shopping.

CenterCal is spending as much time on tenants as it is on ambiance. Families looking to spend a day enjoying food and fountains will feel as comfortable as young couples on a first date, since the plan is that music, sculptures and lighting will give the plaza a more welcoming feel.

"Lighting at night by the water will be very attractive," Bruning said.

As new subdivisions and developments pop up in the Blackhawk area, the change is meant to cater to young and old with both expensive tastes and an eye for a bargain.

"What we're trying to do is have a broad appeal. We're not being too elitist but it's not a discount center," Bruning said.

Additionally, plaza owners have commissioned local artist Brian Keith to create a sculpture of a grandfather reading to his grandchild, while scenes of the book are coming to life. This is just one small thing that caters to kids, he said.

"Let's bring this center into the 21st century, we don't want it to be another mall," Bruning said.


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