Future of the Fringe
February 17, 2012
A few years ago I wrote a series of blogs asking the question, where is the DTO? I have been meaning to revisit the question after revitalization has taken firm root throughout downtown, particularly in the Uptown area. One question to be explore is, what are the boundaries of downtown? Does downtown end at Grand Ave? Is the Jack London District part of downtown? I would argue that both of those areas are part of downtown, because their high-density development patterns are linked to their integration in downtown’s transit network.
Both Jack London Square and Upper Uptown are the subject of large-scale redevelopment plans, even though Redevelopment Agencies are closed. Jack London Square has approval to build several new office buildings, and the greater Uptown area – called Broadway-Valdez after its biggest streets – is currently in the planning stages of a retail-focused revitalization effort. Two recent articles shed light on the future of these projects.
In Jack London Square, logistics software firm Navis has signed a lease for 35,000 square feet of the new Jack London Market building, bringing its office space to full capacity (its retail space currently only boasts one tenant, Daniel Patterson’s Haven restaurant). Though the relationship between office lease rates and construction costs is unfavorable to developers, the main factor driving office construction is the vacancy rate, which is now near zero for Jack London Square office space. Might we see future construction on a new office district on the waterfront? Read more at the SF Business Times.
This week’s East Bay Express included a pessimistic article about the future of the Broadway Valdez plan, which hopes to leverage residential demand to build retail spaces appropriate for anchor tenants like Macy’s. (Full disclosure: in my capacity as Board President of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, I am a signatory to a coalition letter expressing a vision for the area. I also worked for Conley Consulting Group on the feasibility study for the retail area several years ago, which you can find as the first result of this search.) While the loss of redevelopment funding is certainly a blow to the plan, there is no reason why the Specific Plan process cannot continue, as long as there is market demand to build what the City wants to see.
Unfortunately, much of the Express’s article and the discussion around it centers on the supposed opposition between large-scale retail and small business, with many Oaklanders preferring the latter. However, that is a false dichotomy – big retail businesses bring in customers and help support thriving shopping districts, in which small boutiques can find success. This is in fact how every major urban shopping district works: even posh Union Square hosts local businesses like Wilkes Bashford, M.A.C., and Arthur Beren. Conversely, there are very few examples of successful shopping districts without large anchor tenants; I can’t think of a single one (and no, Rockridge doesn’t count).
If the point of Broadway Valdez is to capture the billions of dollars that Oaklanders spend in SF and Walnut Creek, then a department store is necessary. If the goal is to foster an environment where small business can thrive, a department store is also necessary. Can this area be revitalized without redevelopment dollars? Perhaps, but it will have to be sensitive to the market, which is not Oakland’s strong suit. Stay tuned for upcoming meetings on Broadway Valdez, likely in the Spring.