On Fair Oaks Boulevard, between El Camino Boulevard and Marconi Avenue sits the dormant and barely noticeable Hillside Shopping Center. Or what’s left of it. It’s ugly and old and is set back more than 300 feet from the street, partially blocked by a boxy Walgreen’s and an aging Waffle Barn. In its current iteration, it’s a dump. And it’s where longtime Carmichael residents Allan Davis and Nancy Emerson-Davis are developing an envisioned culinary hub that will provide the city with a much-needed draw.
For more than 10 years, the husband-and-wife team has operated Milagro Properties, a company that purchases, renovates and rents commercial and residential properties throughout the region.
“We decided to call the company Milagro (Italian for miracle) because we’ve had a couple of miracles in our lives,” Davis says. “About ten years ago, I survived a serious scare from throat cancer. Soon after that, my wife had a life-threatening bout with Crohn’s disease. Both were miracle recoveries.”
When the old Hillside property went into foreclosure a few years back, the couple decided they “would continue with miracles” by purchasing a property in desperate need of one. Their vision is to change the face of Carmichael by developing a public market with a culinary focus.
Twenty years prior, the couple happened upon the Fred Segal retail emporium in Hollywood. Similar to the Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, the property houses numerous culinary, floral, wine and retail vendors. The couple loved the concept. “So when the opportunity came up at the Hillside Center, we thought, ‘Lets do something like that here,’” Emerson-Davis says.
The first order of business was convincing the property lien-holder that their plan was viable and a better fit for the community than the development of a big-box outlet.
“About three years ago, Wells Fargo foreclosed on the property. The bank brought our team in to handle the stabilization and disposition of the asset,” says Paul Frank, president and CEO of PDF Commercial, the brokerage firm originally assigned to Hillside Shopping Center. “I immediately had a number of big-box retailers interested in the site. However, before any of the national interest went into contract, Allan and Nancy inquired about the property.”
He says the couple told him their vision of a civic focal point, a gathering spot and an identity for the people of Carmichael.
“We knew that this was a critical moment for Carmichael. One path took this property down the road to a typical retail model. The other was a path to a project the likes of which Carmichael has never seen,” Frank says.
He was sold, and escrow closed quickly. Designer Michael Martin and architect Kenton Russell, AIA, were hired to bring the Milagro Centre to life. The 46,000-square-foot building was once home to a half-dozen retailers, commercial businesses and restaurants. Built in the late ’60s, it’s a “very dirty building” by today’s environmental standards, according to Martin.
“My first reaction was, ‘Why the heck would they want to buy this site and renovate it?’” he recalls. “The property is so terrible in terms of its position from the street. I told them if they were just going to paint the façade it was not going to work.”
So he suggested developing an active streetscape, including a giant wrought iron archway leading into the property. A low-bearing wall covered with grape vines will be constructed, and water fountains and concrete tables will encourage outside dining in full view of passing traffic.
“My thought was to create an active area in front of Fair Oaks Boulevard,” Martin says. “That active presence will pull people into the new center. Once past the archway, there will be a natural pathway of tables and landscaping features to the building.”
The entire inside and a portion of the outside of the structure have been gutted. What was once an open courtyard in the middle of the shopping center will soon be enclosed with a glass ceiling; skylights are being installed throughout.
And while the building might not be certified for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, Martin and Russell have been working closely with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Sacramento County Planning Department to create an energy-efficient, clean, green structure.
According to Ray Nalangan, a senior architect and director of SMUD’s design assistance program, once completed the Milagro Centre will exceed environmental and energy minimums called for in Title 24 by more than 25 percent.
Nalangan attributes much of the efficiencies to the materials used to upgrade the storefront and window framing, as well as the additional attention paid to insulation of the structure.
“They implemented several different levels of insulation throughout the building, including a hybrid type of over-the-top insulation in the ceiling,” Nalangan says. “It’s kind of like putting a jacket on over a sweater.”
The energy-efficient, open marketplace will soon be anchored by four large restaurants. As many as 20 smaller, open-air vendors will fill the center courtyard. If the construction schedule sticks, tenants could begin their improvements as early as March. A grand opening is scheduled for June.
Milagro Centre is already making fans, including Linda Melody, executive director of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce.
“Other than our parks and the old La Sierra High School, there are not a lot of central gathering points in Carmichael. This will be a drawing point, not just for Carmichael, but for the entire surrounding region,” she says. “It’s a very exciting project that will likely draw more development to the Fair Oaks corridor.”
As the daughter of the late developer Joe Benvenuti, Emerson-Davis appreciates the need to ensure a return on investment. With the discretion they are taking to screen and select tenants, she admits the risk is higher and payoff will take longer than is typically advisable.
“The easy approach would be to ink a bunch of deals with national franchises. That’s not what Allan and I envision here,” she says. “We’ve always wanted to put our mark here in our hometown of Carmichael. This is the perfect opportunity. And while my father may be scratching his head regarding our business plan, I believe this is a place where he would have had a lot of fun.”
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