downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Category — construction

What's going down, downtown

May 22, 2009

It’s happening downtown, from waterfront events to new construction, to good decisions and bad decisions from City Hall.

Jack London Square, its first round of new construction almost complete, is set the liven up summer with a series of special events. Thursdays Palm Tree Plaza at the foot of Broadway will show nautically-themed films, with The OakBook hosting a trivia contest. Fridays the Linden Street Studio will teach dance classes (today is the waltz) under the stars, and restaurants are offering prix-fixe dinners. A hanging tile mural is being installed on the new Amtrak parking garage. And more opportunities are arising for the future: east of the square, the former Zazoo’s is for sale. It appears to be a $3.2m tear-down, potentially zoned for up to 120 residences, and no height limit.

It’s not all roses, though, for downtown’s waterfront: The Island reports the Port of Oakland is considering ending ferry service at Jack London Square. I find this very unlikely, since it would entail ending the Alameda Ferry as well, while the Water Emergency Transit Authority is attempting to expand ferry ridership and infrastructure.

On Wednesday the Planning Commission approved plans to renovate the former Sweet Jimmie’s on San Pablo and 17th, on the edge of Uptown near Old Oakland. The operator of SF’s Independent will create a smaller venue, a restaurant, and two clothing boutiques, and gussy up the façade. The building hosted Dave Chappelle’s surprise performance last month. Meanwhile, with no public hearings needed, nearby @17th is set to be the new location of the Bench and Bar.

Less awesome for downtown was the Planning Commission’s decision to grant The Shorenstein Corporation five years to resume construction on 601 12 St, which is now a gigantic hole. The lot is half a block from the partially shrink-wrapped CityWalk site. Old Oakland could endure nine years of construction as result of that decision, mitigated only by $50,000 worth of murals on a fence.

City Hall may be closed today, but there is good policy news as well. As the reader may know, on May 5 pedestrian advocates and downtown residents persuaded the City Council to use a prominent Uptown lot for public art instead of car parking. The approved motion, introduced by Councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente, directed Cultural Arts to incorporate the lot into its Uptown arts budget, but allowed the parking plan to move forward in two weeks if City Administrator Dan Lindheim determined an arts use is infeasible. It’s been two weeks, and Cultural Arts has presented several options to Mr. Lindheim, which have not been declared infeasible. So Uptown will not take a step backwards by reverting a prominent Telegraph Avenue lot, however temporarily, to car parking. Whatever Cultural Arts does with the lot, I’m confident it will enrich the neighborhood, complement the streetscape, and perhaps even give Playa-haters a chance to see large-scale sculpture. Uptown Unveiled debuts in June.

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A few things to read about downtown Oaktown

May 15, 2009

In case you missed them.

Mignonne, an Old Oakland boutique featuring vintage and French housewares, furniture, and gifts, is moving to West Berkeley. This weekend the shop holds a moving sale, at 10th and Jefferson across from Lafayette Square Park. Other shopping opportunities include a new gallery in Uptown, and 17th St has been on the upswing this year. A recent business article reports that Oakland’s retail vacancy rate is much lower than the national average. Of course, it’s hard to subtract from zero.

Much was made of an empty Uptown lot where pedestrian advocates successfully delayed a plan to build a parking lot. The alternative, integrating the lot into the Uptown Unveiled public-art program, must be ruled feasible by Tuesday for it to proceed. Meanwhile, here in Old Oakland we have our own empty lot, the site of a high-rise office tower known as 601 City Center. Unlike the Uptown lot, construction started and then stalled, leaving a huge hole in the ground. But Oakland and the developer, Shorenstein, have agreed to, among other things, create a “a public art program to increase the attractiveness of the security fencing.” Funny that just a few weeks ago city staff argued that decorating construction fences with art is unattractive!

The East Bay Express reviews Pican, which, alongside Ozumo, is fast-becoming a premiere destination for its California-meets-Atlanta cuisine, epansive bourbon selection, and warmly handsome interior decor. The Coco Times reviews Banyan 14, while Becks reviews nice outdoor spots downtown for this beautiful weather.

An SFer posted a sweet blog about how much he (or she) likes working in the DTO, which to him feels like a secret. One reason we’re not seeing new highrises like 601 City Center or 1100 Broadway being built is that, despite the low vacancy rate, there aren’t new tenants moving into the market (and a source reports that Kaiser is consolidating at lot of its operations to Pleasanton). But big block of space was just leased: a “neutral” office for BART to conduct its negotations with its union.

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