Bocce park heads toward finish line

bocce construction edit_for websiteThe Ipsen Family Bocce Park, currently under construction on the gravel lot at the corner of Oak and Main Streets, is expected to bring some much needed customers to the downtown during the week when things are pretty quiet. The city hopes the park and the infusion of people will help generate developer interest in the vacant parcels on Main Street and Oak Streets.

As the dust flies, anticipation builds for the opening of the Ipsen Family Bocce Park set for early June. The four court park is a joint effort between the Clayton Business and Community Association and Kent and “Skip” Ipsen, founders of Skipolini’s Pizza, with the CBCA funding the $175,000 construction costs on Ipsen’s vacant lot at the corner of Main and Oak Streets. The CBCA will operate and manage the park after it opens in June.

Construction of the park is in tandem with Skipolini’s major kitchen and patio remodel.

The idea of a bocce park has been percolating in the Clayton community for the better part of a decade.

In 2008, plans for a park on the city owned land adjacent to City Hall bombed when estimated construction costs topped $1 million. But bocce lovers are nothing if not tenacious.

The pent up demand was spectacularly evident on the first day of the Clayton League signups on April 5, when more than 500 players filled up the first 10 teams before the end of the day, forcing the League to add two more teams to the already packed play schedule. Ed Hartley, CBCA member heading up the bocce effort, says close to 70 percent of the players are Clayton residents.

The courts should be complete by early June. League play is set to begin June 16.

The park is expected to bring upwards of 80 people to downtown Clayton five evenings a week, providing a much needed stimulus to local business. “Build it and they will come,” says CBCA’s Ed Hartley, president of the Clayton Bocce Federation. “The players have to eat somewhere,” he says, “We have the places for them.”

John Canesa, owner of Canesa’s Brooklyn Deli, immediately next door to the park, expects business to “boom” when league play starts.

The excitement is coming not just from the local eateries. Sara Skow, owner of the Royal Rooster gift store on Diablo Street, is already planning to add evening hours this summer.

Bocce buzz just the beginning

The bocce park may just be what’s needed to jump-start business in the economically sluggish town center.

Last month the city of Clayton listed three downtown parcels with a commercial real estate broker with hopes of attracting one or more developers. The largest parcel, a 1.67-acre piece next to the Clayton Community Church offices sits between Main St. and Clayton Rd. The other piece is on Oak Street and is comprised of two adjacent parcels totaling .75 acre. The Oak Street property has been approved for a mixed use project with 7,000 sq. ft. of retail space on the ground floor and seven apartments upstairs. It’s fully entitled and ready for hammer and nails. There is a potential developer interested in the property, but no firm deals, yet.

The city properties are listed with Transwestern Property Company West, Inc.

“The challenge,” says Transwestern’s managing broker, Ed Del Beccaro, “is to turn Clayton into a destination.”

The most promising scenario, he says, is for mixed use with 7,000-10,000 sq. ft. of commercial combined with condos and apartments.

“Restaurants, a wine bar, some form of entertainment and maybe a high-end retail – say a saddle shop – are at the top of our list,” he says. The company has sent over 70 solicitations to potential developers. About a third of those have shown interest enough to ask for more information.

Until last year, the Main St. property was owned by the Clayton Community Church, which had plans to build a worship center downtown. The church sold the lot to the city of Clayton last year when a better site on the hill above Mt. Diablo Elementary became available. The church still owns approximately 1.4 acres next door that is used for offices which is currently listed with Colliers.

The two properties combined are just about three acres, big enough to attract some real commercial interest, says Del Baccaro.

Shawn Robinson, pastor of Clayton Community Church, says they are open to working with the city’s broker to market the two parcels together.