Developer Blake Griggs dishes on the upcoming Walnut Creek 'Transit Village'
Developer Blake Griggs has had a front-row view of Walnut Creek’s push to urbanize its downtown. The Danville-based developer began working in the East Bay suburb nearly 10 years ago, beginning with the 178-unit Vaya apartments. Today, Blake Griggs, alongside joint venture partner Transit Village Associates LLC, is about to deliver the first phase of the $380 million Walnut Creek Transit Village project, a mixed-use hub to feature nearly 600 homes and 26,000 square feet of retail on formerly BART-owned land by the Walnut Creek BART station.
Walnut Creek, says Blake Griggs Vice President of Development Ryan McNamara, is just “a natural place” for Bay Area residents in search of more space with proximity to San Francisco and Oakland. They might take interest in the first phase of the Transit Village, dubbed the Waymark, which offers studios and one-, two- and three-bed apartments for rents that range between $2,600 and the $5,000s and is expected to formally deliver in September
I spoke with McNamara, who has lived in the Walnut Creek area since 2005, about where things stand with the Transit Village and what might be next for Walnut Creek.
What drew Blake Griggs to Walnut Creek?
We’ve always seen Walnut Creek as a highly desirable community, particularly for people that work in San Francisco and want to commute to the city via BART. As the shopping districts have come up, the restaurant scene has changed, and Walnut Creek has certainly become one of the bigger forces and more desirable places to live in the East Bay.
I see the Transit Village as representative of the push Walnut Creek has made over the last few years to construct an urban, pedestrian-friendly downtown.
How far has the city come with that goal over the last few years? The downtown shopping scene has undergone a transformation, and more people are moving out to the East Bay looking for bigger apartments and more affordability. All of those things have been a perfect recipe for Walnut Creek’s growth. I think the city itself has done a really great job in trying to plan long-term for that.
How does the Transit Village fit into the city’s growth?
It’ll be what all BART stations desire to be now in terms of immediate access to transit where people need fewer cars — maybe even no cars. I think the retail helps serve the million plus square feet of office space on Pringle Avenue that sits next door and makes that space more viable so people can live right next door to where they work.
How has the pandemic impacted interest in Walnut Creek? The city has certainly benefited from people looking for more space or looking to reduce their rents. The apartment market overall for Walnut Creek initially saw a dip — rents were probably about 8% to 10% down at the peak. About a year ago, we started to see that aggressive climb back up. It was probably one of the first places in the Bay to experience that. I think it’s just a natural place for people that want more space but still want proximity to San Francisco.
Blake Griggs is about to deliver the Waymark. What were the headwinds and tailwinds of delivering that project?
Both the city and BART have been really good partners. It is a marquee project for all groups, and they are all motivated to see it come on as scheduled and as envisioned. The first phase is 358 units, about 14,000 square feet of retail, which benefits not only our residents but that office space next to us. In terms of headwinds, I think overall we and the contractor have been able to manage Covid fairly well, but there are certainly lots of issues even today with procuring materials, dealing with delays and labor shortages.
Where does the second phase of the Transit Village stand?
We continue to work on Phase 2. We’re waiting to see how the lease-up goes on this project, but hopefully things will go very well here this year, and then we’ll start revisiting plans for Phase 2 early next year. We’d be looking at hard costs and at the product type, making sure it makes sense. It’s not an overhaul, just reworking inside of the box of what’s already been approved.
Where do you think things will be in terms of transit-oriented development and development in Walnut Creek generally in five to 10 years?
I think it’s hard to tell. BART ridership is still down in a post-pandemic world. In a lot of areas, not only Walnut Creek but other East Bay cities, big companies haven’t gone back to the office as much as we thought they would have by now. So until that kind of reveals itself more and we see longer-term trends, it is hard to say how much growth impact transit-oriented development could have over the next five to 10 years.