downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Posts from — February 2012

From comic books to Soul Train, the DTO celebrates this weekend

February 24, 2012

It seems that Spring has permanently sprung here in perpetually sunny Oakland. With First Friday just around the corner, there is no shortage of exciting events and new happenings in our downtown.

After WonderCon decided to decamp from the Oakland Convention Center (at the City Center Marriott, on 10th St) to larger digs in Anaheim, a group of community-loving comics creators decided to hold a gathering here in the DTO. Starting today, the Image Comics Expo runs through the weekend. Tonight, the Uptown (1928 Telegraph) hosts a welcome party, and fundraiser for the Comic Books Legal Defense Fund, starting at 8pm.

Diablo Magazine’s new issue rounds up all the latest restaurant news in downtown. The opening of Bittersweet Cafe on Broadway and the expansion of Beer Revolution are two highlights have haven’t been mentioned in this space before – but seeing everything lined up in one place is quite heartening. Quick update to the list – as of today, Le Cheval is operating from their original, remodeled space at 10th and Clay Streets.

Unmentioned in the magazine is the Night Light, which will open this Spring in the former Clancy’s space at 311 Broadway. The decor is beautiful, following a subtle nautical theme.

After the death of music and cultural hero Don Cornelius, a large Soul Train line formed in Times Square to celebrate his legacy. Inspired by that effort, a local group is asking for music fans to come to Henry Kaiser Park (19th off Telegraph) to mount what they’re hoping will be the world’s largest Soul Train line, on Saturday at noon. Hear from the organizers on their Facebook invite.

Uptown’s charming Entrez housewares boutique (1645 Telegraph) has moved to Walnut Creek, but its spirit will be celebrated this Sunday with a party benefiting the soon-to-open Urban Montessori School. A fundraising raffle will be accompanied by music, wine tasting by Periscope Cellars, and kid-friendly and craft activities. An after-party at Somar follows. Check out the details on Facebook.

Vitus (201 Broadway) and the Bay Area Pinball Blog welcome the debut of a new pinball machine with a tournament and party next Wednesday, Feb 29. The AC/DC machine will be greeted with a performance by the Dolomites. The tournament costs $5, starts at 5pm, and the deadline for registration is 8pm. Vitus’s four other machines, which include all-time best-seller Medieval Madness, will be available for non-tournament play.

See you on the pins!

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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.