Just over 10 years ago, the area east of the BART station along 11th Street was an industrial desert — an empty expanse home to a pipe yard and contaminated land left by a steel mill. What may have seemed like a mirage then is quickly becoming a reality today.
On Thursday, the City of Union City held a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally unveil the new Station Center, located in the heart of the Intermodal Station District.
The city envisions the 105-acre area as being a robust, transit-oriented hub where residents can shop, work, live, play and have easy access to regional transportation.
“It’s amazing how the city has had such a vision for this underutilized land. The potential is enormous,” said Matthew Franklin, president of MidPen Housing Corp.
MidPen Housing developed a state-of-the-art, award-winning affordable housing complex that opened last October.
The five-story structure features 157 rental units along with retail space, a community garden, a computer lab and a 35-foot high play pyramid. The complex also provides afterschool tutoring and free health assessments and health education courses through a partnership with San Francisco State University’s School of Nursing.
A $65.3 million development, the project was funded by the Union City Redevelopment Agency, Alameda County Housing Authority, California Department of Housing and Community Development, along with other sources.
Directly across the street is a new plaza with a field and fountain adorned by “The Dancers” — three 15-foot bronze sculptures made by acclaimed French artist Louis Derbre.
“It’s just marvelous,” said City Manager Larry Cheeves of this latest phase of the Station District development. “We’ve been seeing this on paper for so long, but to see it in place and hear from the people living here and what it means to them, it makes public service all the more worthwhile.”
Among those celebrating the new development was MidPen Housing tenant Colleen Dutton-Cook. A longtime Union City resident and single mother of two, she said the new development provides an affordable and safe environment for her family.
“This is one of the best places I’ve ever lived in my life,” Dutton-Cook said.
She said for the past five years, her family lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with a mold problem that cost $1,250 a month to rent. It was all the 39-year-old nursing student could afford until she moved into the MidPen apartments last October.
“It was like one of those shows where they remake the house and everyone comes in like, ‘Oh my gosh!’” Dutton-Cook said with tears in her eyes. “We were like, ‘Look at the shower curtain rod, it’s curved! That’s so nice, the curtain won’t stick to us!’”
Dutton-Cook is also an active part of the MidPen community, teaching classes about healthy eating on a budget and tending to the community garden.
She represents the type of people MidPen Housing hopes to help through their affordable housing complexes, Franklin said.
“What our residents understand is that if they have the foundation and stability that affordable, safe, quality affordable housing provides, that really anything’s possible for them,” Franklin said.
Residents of the Pacific Terrace community next to the center also welcome the addition of the complex and plaza.
“It was just a big lot of dirt on both sides,” said Jonathan Pettey, a nearby resident and chair of the City of Union City’s Human Relations Commission.
He said he sees young families out and about in the neighborhood, which he hadn’t seen before the new development.
“Before they opened up MidPen and the park, living here was like living on an isolated island,” Pette said. “It feels like the neighborhood has arrived now.”
While Cheeves is proud of the city’s accomplishment, he said there’s still work to be done.
The next phase in the Station District’s development is to create a back entrance/exit for the BART station for a pedestrian walkway connecting the train station to the East Plaza.
The city is also in talks with a developer to build a 187-unit market rate apartment complex. Cheeves said a contract may be awarded to Windflower Properties later this month.
“Our vision is that there will be activity here all through the day and evening,” Cheeves said.