A Greener Park

The history of Depot Park

Back Article Jul 31, 2010 By JT Long

During World War II, the U.S. Army put Depot Park on the map as a central location to collect and distribute war supplies to troops on the West Coast and across the Pacific. The military moved out in 1995, but government, nonprofits and businesses of all sizes have continued to leverage the site as a hub for green activities and technological innovations.

First, Packard Bell, which later merged with NEC, leased much of the 485-acre converted business park and wired the office and industrial buildings with the latest in communications systems. When Packard Bell NEC closed its U.S. offices in 2000, U.S. National Leasing LLC, led by developer Dick Fischer, was entrusted by the city with the keys to the site.

Fischer was faced with the task of leasing 3 million square feet of vacant industrial space. They were located near rail and freeway transportation and reasonably priced with room to grow — but the ambience could use some work. “There was fundamentally no landscaping, and that is not acceptable,” Fischer says. With help from landscape architect Wade and Associates, he immediately set about greening the entrance and corridors by planting 3,000 trees and building a $400,000 park complete with bocce ball and volleyball courts.

“Conversions are never simple or easy, but the best way to keep structural surprises to a minimum is to convert to similar uses,” Fischer says.

The transformation started with a mission statement comprised of three goals: security, diversity and inclusiveness. Architectural changes turned those ideals into realities. First, Fischer stressed security by building two gatehouses and installing new fences. That made the site appealing to logistics companies with equipment that needed to be protected.

Luring a diversity of companies and business types started with breaking the narrow, concrete buildings into individual offices that lend themselves well to call centers and combinations of warehouse and office space.

Inclusiveness required making the site appealing to all types of businesses, from schools to large logistics operations. To separate pedestrian areas from truck routes without posting ominous signs, Fischer made some corridors wide with big turnarounds and pedestrian areas narrow with tight corners. To warm up the reception for office tenants accustomed to higher-end spaces, he chose sage, tan and chocolate paint colors he and his wife admired on a trip to Tuscany. “While part of the appeal of the area is that it is a low price point, I felt that people would respond to a greater degree of amenities than they would have expected,” Fischer says.

The biggest change came inside the buildings, which went from completely empty to 15 percent vacancy with a diverse tenant list that includes the Department of Motor Vehicles, Sutter Health, Ferguson Enterprises Inc., Siemens Transportation Systems, Airco Mechanical and DHE Trucking. John Barney, Depot Park site manager, says the green facility has more than 100 tenants and counting. The newest addition was the July opening of St. John’s Shelter Plates Café, which helps women in the shelter learn hospitality skills. As part of a green business push, a 2.5-megawatt solar array is in the works.