Earlier this month, San Francisco presented the annual Rail~Volution conference which hosted 1,400 “Rail~Volutionaries” from around the country and focused on building livable communities with transit. The conference offered the chance for attendees to explore a number of transformative transit projects in the Bay Area, including BART’s extension to the South Fremont/Warm Springs Innovation District.

One of the conference attendees had a special interest in seeing Fremont’s progress in Warm Springs. Clarence Eng, AICP, from Kimley-Horn in Tampa served on a 2012 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services Panel, which set the framework for the Warm Springs area to function as a 21st century workplace.

Q: Four years ago, the ULI Panel conducted a bus tour of the Warm Springs station and surrounding area that was mostly made up of dirt and tumbleweeds. What were your thoughts last week upon seeing the completed station, and the staging for surrounding development projects?

A: I was truly impressed by the degree of change in Warm Springs with the BART station readying for revenue service and incorporating sustainable best practices, the expansion of the TESLA facility, and new residential development activity in the core station area. Moreover, I was both inspired and proud to see the master development strategies taking shape. I was beginning to see a diversified live-work-shop-play district knitting the seams back into the fabric of the adjacent neighborhoods and commercial areas. The road network was improved, and the Downtown Fremont area was also transforming. At the station itself, the glass artwork transformed a transit station into a community place.

Q: The ULI Panel recommendations served as guiding principles for the Warm Springs Community Plan and key design elements such as Innovation Way — the signature address for Warm Springs. The panel also expressed a sense of urgency in Fremont acting quickly to make the most of the opportunity. How did we do?

A: I recall standing adjacent to the rail corridor four years ago, visualizing the potential of the large project area. I remember the City wanted to focus on employment in the District,and our reaction was simple. The District’s size allowed for jobs, housing, manufacturing, supporting retail, and more! Diversification was important to sustainability. Innovation Way was an important spine that would connect the District’s diverse uses to the BART station hub, destination, and meeting place. Warm Springs wanted to become a real place, not just a transit station or employment area. Recognizing that the past recession shelved or transformed so many projects, I applaud Fremont’s commitment and ability to leverage the BART station investment along with all the area’s economic drivers to make big gains in four short years. I look forward to returning in a few years to more surprises.

Q: A new dimension to Warm Springs has been the creation of an Innovation District — something that you are also working on in Tampa. Any helpful or interesting insights that you’ll bring home?

A: I came to Fremont also wearing the hat as the new Chair of the Tampa Innovation District Advisory Board. Warm Springs reminded me that the commitment of strong local partners (elected officials, staff leadership, and many other champions) is critical to achieving actionable success. There are always naysayers and reasons why something couldn’t be done or wasn’t done in the past. Innovation is the act of creative problem-solving and is fostered by providing optimal conditions for collaboration. EcoLab is a great example of bringing diverse individuals together to make it happen. Trailblazing requires intuition, a level of personal resolve, visualizing a future outcome, and making sure you are surrounded by smart and effective people who can get things done. I’ve come away with a sense of renewed confidence in our ability to find near-term (versus long-term planning) solutions and the need for innovation to be incorporated throughout our activities (green technology, bioswales, solar, etc.)

The ULI Panel Advisory Services tours the Innovation District in 2012 when the land directly west of the BART Station was owned by Union Pacific Railroad.

Clarence Eng visits Warm Springs again in 2016 as part of the Rail~Volution Conference. The new BART station is nearing completion, and work has begun on adjacent mixed-use projects.