Antioch Chamber of Commerce, Somersville Towne Center join St. Mary’s College to develop economic opportunity plan

Will ask Council in January for $27,000 to cover half the cost of effort

By Allen Payton

At the December 11th Antioch City Council meeting representatives of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, Somersville Towne Center and St. Mary’s College presented a proposal to develop economic opportunity plan for the Somersville Road area.

Julie Neward, the General Manager for the mall, and a member of the Economic Development Committee of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.

“We want to establish Antioch as a hub, we now have BART,” she said.

“For every four working individuals in our community, three of them have to commute outside of Antioch,” Richard Pagano, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said. “Antioch is one of the last bastions of affordable housing. We have a great opportunity, here to attract millennials.”

“We now have four opportunity zones but we’re not taking advantage of those as we could,” he stated. (See related article).

“We compete with Century Plaza in Pittsburg,” Neward shared. “In order to drive retail in this community, we have to increase our sales per square foot. This relies on daytime traffic of residents with disposable income.”

She spoke of The Center for the Regional Economy at St. Mary’s College.

It provides an opportunity for exposure,” Neward continued. “They want to provide consultancy and the cost of that could be well over six figures.”

The consulting process will take about 18 months, she explained. It will include undergrad and graduate students and will seek to engage students from Los Medanos College, as well.

It will include a semester-long competition, with teams of four to five students, and the winning team will win an award from an anonymous donor.

“The Antioch Chamber of Commerce wants not only the residents of Antioch, but those in the surrounding communities,” Pagano said. “We want to be known as a place where people can live, work and play, all three.”

They will return in January and ask the City to partner with the effort.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Antioch Economic Development Commission Member Tim McCall. “The City of Antioch has a great opportunity. I hope we’re going to take advantage of it.”

He said the commission voted 7-0 to support the effort.

“One of the jewels of Antioch was the Somersville area,” McCall shared. “Today this jewel sits waiting for us to polish it.”

Ed Del Beccaro, the regional manager of TRI Commercial and a member of several regional economic development and transportation, said “I’m a big fan of the St. Mary’s College. I’m here to support it.”

“My company will volunteer…raw data on transportation trends, so we can talk about Antioch being the center of the universe,” he added.

“The purpose of tonight’s presentation was to get the council’s thoughts on the presentation and if they want it to come back in January,” said City Manager Ron Bernal.

“I would assume that presentation would be a little more in depth on financials,” Councilwoman Monica Wilson said.

Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts said, “Yes, I’m interested. Is there a financial

“Is a satellite for St. Mary’s part of the process or is that just an opportunity? And will this be

“The ask is 50/50 so the City will pay 50% of the cost,” Pagano stated. “The Antioch Chamber of Commerce will pay half.”

“The satellite was a hypothetical,” he shared.

The initial program was to focus on the entirety of the city,” Pagano responded. The focus will be on Somersville.

“If council would like us to look at the entire city…we would be happy to include all four opportunity zones

“I assume that would be a larger commitment,” Motts said.

“Actually, it would be the same commitment,” Pagano stated.

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock said, “I am for this. I am for partnering with St. Mary’s. But to what degree, I’m a little bit lost. I’m not quite sure what we’re doing exactly.”

If we partner with the city, there’s a better stake in the outcome,” Neward responded. “The Chamber of Commerce is moving forward on this. We believe the we want to do it together.”

The total project is $54,000,” Pagano stated.

What is the partnership going to do,” Ogorchock asked.

“We’re getting an economic strategy for the Somersville area,” Neward responded.

“St. Mary’s has an economic development department and this would be like a senior project,” Mayor Sean Wright explained.

Wilson then asked, “What is the outcome? The students…are going to hand us a plan. Are we just getting one plan?

“It’s not just one plan. It’s multiple plans,” Pagano responded. “It’s developed in collaboration with multiple stakeholders…council members, chamber of commerce representatives, the faith-based community.”

“Will this result in a PBID?” Wilson asked.

“A PBID is a Property Business Improvement District,” Neward responded. “It is a tool. Yes, it would result in this.”

Motts asked to hear from Economic Development Director Kwame Reed.

“I participated in something like this when I was getting my degree from Cal Poly,” he said. “These types of studies are very beneficial, not only to the students, but to the cities.”

“Doing a more targeted economic strategy for the Somersville area, which kind of clusters of businesses,” he explained. “I will be coming back to the council with an economic strategy. This is something on my list of things to get done.”

Dr. Sheila Hassel-Hughes Dean of the School of the Liberal Arts said, “This project is really hybrid, and it touches on the heart of the mission of St. Mary’s which is dedicated to community, community well-being, social justice, diversity and inclusion.”

“The project as it’s designed involves multiple stages, multiple students, including undergrads from Business Administration and the Justice, Community and Leadership Program,” she explained. “In addition…there is graduate student involvement…in the Entrepreneurship Program during the summer.”

Then St. Mary’s faculty will do the analysis working with city staff and council. The student participation would be provided for free. The costs will be for the St. Mary’s staff time.

“There’s definitely consensus to bring this back,” Wright concluded. “This is something that is extremely beneficial for the community. I’m more interested in the relationship that we will be developing with St. Mary’s College.”

“One of the commonalities (of successful communities) that drives success is a relationship with a university,” he stated. “We have no relationship with a university. Ninety percent of economic development comes from college graduates who are entrepreneurs who will create businesses.”

He spoke of wanting to attract those graduates to our community “with their ideas”.

Pagano then asked if the project should focus on the Somersville area or citywide.

“I think that’s a perfect place to start,” Ogorchock added. “I would like to see that area focused on, first.”

Motts said, “If it’s the same price…we can take a look at it in January.”

Wright then responded, “I’m just going on the Economic Development Commission and Economic Development Director, and they want to focus on that area.”


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