RIVERBANK — For decades, workers canned tomatoes at the packing plant in the heart of this city. A few years ago, the tomato trucks stopped arriving and the cans stopped rolling down the line.
But the plant's owners have ambitious plans to pack new life into the 32-acre site.
The Sun Garden-Gangi Canning Co. wants to redevelop it with housing, shopping and offices, a central plaza and maybe even a huge sports complex.
The plan calls for a major redrawing of the city's central streets, which could take years to happen.
The area would be connected to downtown by extending Santa Fe Street and having it run underneath the railroad tracks that separate the cannery from downtown. The project would make Santa Fe Street one of the main routes into downtown.
The project could break ground as early as mid-2011 if all goes well — that is, if the real estate market rebounds, there are no major holdups in getting city approvals and the financing falls into place.
"We own the property," said Rick DiNapoli, one of the Sun Garden-Gangi owners. "Something is going to happen there. It's just a matter of when."
DiNapoli said private money would redevelop the cannery, which he estimates will cost more than $20 million. City Manager Rich Holmer said the city will look for grants and investors for the project.
The city's role includes securing approvals and funding for signal lights at two intersections outside of the project, an underpass at the railroad tracks to extend Santa Fe Street, closing Patterson Road at the railroad tracks near First Street and rerouting regional truck traffic onto Highway 108 from Claus Road.
The signal lights are planned for Santa Fe and Callander Avenue, and Highway 108 and Claus Road.
Holmer said he doesn't expect major opposition to closing Patterson Road where the railroad tracks cross it and rerouting regional truck traffic.
Public Works Director Dave Melilli said the California Department of Transportation is reviewing the city's request for the signals. He said the California Public Utilities Commission has accepted the city's request for the underpass, and the city is waiting to hear when it will be funded. The underpass is contingent upon closing Patterson Road at the railroad tracks.
A report Sun Garden-Gangi filed with the city calls for as many as 507 housing units, from apartments and flats, to townhouses and lofts on the upper floors of commercial buildings, to row houses and single-family homes. The plan also details about 100,000 square feet of retail and professional offices and a 152,000-square-foot sports complex.
But DiNapoli cautioned the report is a starting point and the amount of housing, retail and offices that will be built could be much less and will be based on market conditions. The sports complex is an open question.
"I'd like to do the sports complex," he said. "I think it would be a great thing for Riverbank. But it will be based on what the market and economics say."
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The development is envisioned as complementing — not competing with — downtown. Plans call for a compact, urban development that encourages walking and bicycling. Holmer said the architecture could be Spanish or Mediterranean style.
DiNapoli said he is talking with officials at St. Francis of Rome Catholic Church — which is next to the project — and will address any concerns they have.
The city will hold several public hearings for residents to weigh in on the project as it works its way through City Hall, Holmer said.
Holmer said the city plans to hire a consultant this year to conduct a $130,000 environmental impact report, which will tell what measures are needed to lessen the project's affects on traffic, air quality, noise and public services.
The City Council approved an agreement in August in which Sun Garden-Gangi Canning Co. would have paid as much as $80,000 toward the environmental review. But Holmer said he and city staff have had second thoughts and will ask the council to have the city pay the EIR's entire cost.
"We just felt it was in the best interest of the city to not get caught in one of these agreements," he said. "It's not unethical, but it could have that appearance."
He said the city will recover the EIR's cost through the fees it charges the project's developers.
DiNapoli said it will take about a year to conduct the environmental review. He said the next step would be a master plan, which would spell out exactly what would be built.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.