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June 12, 2021

Year in Review 2020: Gilroy seeks developers to advance recreational goals

Hecker Pass proposal draws early interest

The City of Gilroy is drawing interest from developers to transform its 536 acres on Hecker Pass, including Gilroy Gardens, into a recreational destination.

The city has been seeking proposals for the “Hecker Pass Highway Tourism and Recreation Development Opportunity” since Nov. 16. Submissions are due Jan. 19.

In September, the Gilroy City Council declared Gilroy as a recreation destination following the recent formation of the Gilroy Economic Development Partnership. The group, which held its first meeting in March, consists of representatives from the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Gilroy Economic Development Corporation, Downtown Business Association, Visit Gilroy, Gilroy Gardens and Gavilan College, as well as Gilroy’s mayor and city administrator. 

The group has focused its efforts on three areas: the proposed ice rink at the Sports Park, the 536 acres at Gilroy Gardens and downtown’s Gourmet Alley.

City officials see these areas as a key component to stimulate economic recovery and boost revenues following the pandemic-induced recession.

On Dec. 7, the city hosted a virtual meeting to introduce the project to interested developers. In attendance were representatives from BKF Engineers, SERA Architects, Select Contracts and Walltopia Adventure USA.

The 20-page RFP document describes the property as well as the city’s goals to “establish Gilroy as the top family-oriented outdoor recreation destination in the San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Central Coast.” It adds that potential redevelopment projects could include “portions occupied by Gilroy Gardens.”

City Administrator Jimmy Forbis said the city-owned land is “unbelievably opportunistic for somebody with a little bit of creativity and some venture capitalism.”

“We’re looking for people with ideas,” he said. “Our arms are open and we are hoping somebody wants to come and do something great. We truly believe that if you build it, people will come.”

The 536 acres have been the subject of proposed development in recent years. In 2017, the city was in negotiations with Great Wolf Lodge to build a 700-room resort on a portion of the property. The lodge eventually chose Manteca to build its next resort.

Gilroy Gardens, meanwhile, is considering an expansion that would add bike trails, zip lines and other recreational activities on the 350-acre hillside behind the gardens. Select Contracts released a study for the proposed “adventure park” in 2019.

David Zehnder of Economic & Planning Systems, who is working with Gilroy on the RFP, said the city is “open to ideas” on whether the theme park could be “built upon, expanded, leveraged” or have other “fundamental changes.”

“We’re really looking for a candid, honest take on what the best possibilities for this site are that are within reason and can be executed successfully,” he said.

David Johnson of SERA Architects said his firm has interest from a potential tenant who is looking to partner with a developer willing to take a lead on the project.

Proposals are due Jan. 19. The city will then choose and interview the top three respondents in February, and soon after make a recommendation to the city council.

“This is the schedule, and it is a bit aggressive,” Forbis said. “The primary reason why it is aggressive is because this is going to be a cornerstone of our economic development recovery.”

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