Luxury San Ramon shopping and dining complex adds life to sleepy city

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At a time when some of the oldest and largest retail stores in the nation are closing their doors amid bankruptcies and stiff competition from online sellers, the city of San Ramon has recently opened a new $300 million dining, shopping and entertainment center that is drawing big names and big crowds. 

City Center Bishop Ranch, with its 70 stores and restaurants and a 10-screen movie complex with seat-side food and drink service, opened its doors last November after years of planning and construction by Sunset Development Company. 

The city of San Ramon was incorporated some 35 years ago, but never had a typical downtown shopping and dining area, like neighboring Danville and Pleasanton. Additionally, public space where community members could gather or just hang out has been limited. 

“The area had many beautiful buildings but there wasn’t a clear public footprint or public face (for Sunset Development),” said Jeff Dodd, senior vice president of retail at Sunset Development. “The valley didn’t have the sort of public space that (company leaders) envisioned.” With City Center Bishop Ranch, Sunset Development created “a new kind of lifestyle destination in the Tri-Valley,” Dodd added.

City Center is unlike a traditional enclosed suburban mall because it has separate entrances to the stores that are set around a central courtyard. Parking and service entrances are on the center’s upper floors.

Sunset began developing in San Ramon when Masud R. Mehran founded the company in 1951. The developers purchased the 585-acre Bishop Ranch property in 1978. And two years later, building began on what would later become the 10-million square foot corporate office complex called Bishop Ranch.

The Bishop Ranch corporate office park now has 30,000 workers at corporate giants such as Chevron, IBM, PG&E, General Electric, Ford Motor Company. 

With the opening of City Center Bishop Ranch, those 30,000 nearby office workers now have a nearby place to eat, shop, and enjoy entertainment. The center is also a boon for San Ramon’s 75,000 residents, who have long lacked a central shopping and dining center close to home. 

Two weeks ago, the famed San Francisco Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door opened at City Center Bishop Ranch after operating the award-winning restaurant in San Francisco for nearly 25 years. The Slanted Door joins Boba Guys, Fieldwork Brewing, salad restaurant MIXT, Mendocino Farms. taqueria C Casa and many other eateries. 

Fieldwork Brewing owner Barry Braden told the San Francisco Chronicle that he decided to open the watering hole, which has 18 beers on tap, because he understood that San Ramon and the Tri-Valley area needed a retail and dining complex. 

“It’s a place maker. It’s going to be a real destination, I think, for not only for this community but on a wider scale as well,” Braden told the newspaper. Fieldwork Brewing first started in Berkeley and now has six locations in Northern California.

If you need to burn off those beer calories, Equinox gym is also in the center and includes a cycling studio, kids club, and classes in everything from yoga to boxing. 

On the retail end, City Center Bishop Ranch tenants include, Athleta, Anthropologie, a high fashion boutique store called M that was founded by veteran supermodel  Maggie Rizer, Monokrome, a children’s boutique that sells clothing designs from Instagram and Etsy shops for infants to teens, and On the Edge, which offers shoes and accessories. 

The complex was designed by Italian architect  Renzo Piano, in collaboration with BAR Architects. Piano has gained worldwide attention for such projects as the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco; the new Whitney Museum in New York City; and The Shard, in London — Europe's tallest skyscraper.

“We decided to design a piazza, a square, with the heart of the project made out of green, water and space for cultural and social events,” Antonio Belvedere, a partner at Piano’s firm and the lead designer of City Center, said in a statement. 

In a prepared statement, Piano himself added: "The beautiful rolling hills of San Ramon served as the perfect backdrop for City Center's design and overall feel — and the region's residents served as the inspiration for its heart."