downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Posts from — March 2012

Five years of the DTO

March 30, 2012

The end of March marks five years after I published my first post on this blog – about an invasion of SF-based restaurants into Oakland. The restaurants surging in Uptown, combined with the strength of Old Oakland, were kick-starting a renaissance five years ago: a renaissance which is thriving even after years of recession.

The most popular categories on this blog are: Old Oakland, the original happening hood, and where I used to live; Uptown, downtown’s showcase district; dining, which is one of the key draws to downtown and Oakland in general; and nightlife, of course. This reflects a host of exciting developments in the 160+ years of Oakland’s existence as a city.

Perhaps most significant for downtown was the reopening of the Fox, a long-cherished community dream that was enabled by Redevelopment dollars generated by private investment in Uptown. About five thousand people moved downtown during the last half-decade or so, and despite an oft-repeated myth, there are few empty condos or apartments in the downtown area (in fact, Oakland appears to be experiencing an apartment shortage that may jump-start new housing construction). With all the excitement and investment, what helped downtown improve?

Key factors in downtown’s rebirth

  • Broadway Shuttle: The Broadway Shuttle today is just great. A transit investment study, with implementation funds in the upcoming transportation sales tax hike, may provide a major new transportation link throughout greater downtown in the near future.
  • Cabaret Ordinance Reform: In 2010 a long-sought change to Oakland’s outdated Cabaret Ordinance legalized DJs at bars, clarified the rules for dance clubs, and created a late-night permit for a few establishments.
  • Pop Up Stores: Generous landlords, far-sighted city employees, and the assistance of the Downtown Business Improvement Districts have enlivened downtown with temporary and lower-cost boutiques and art galleries, from Oaklandish to Betti Ono Gallery. The trend culminated in the Pop Up Hood in Old Oakland, which may be leading that district out of recession into retail success.
  • Updated zoning: Ten years after Oakland passed a new General Plan, downtown’s zoning was updated to reduce planning headaches for developers, concentrate residential and commercial construction in appropriate areas, and ban surface parking lots as a bane to pedestrians.

Remaining challenges

  • Public safety: There are precious few beat cops downtown and the helpful Downtown Ambassadors can only do so much. Considering how light the police presence is, it’s miraculous that downtown has relatively few crimes.
  • Infrastructure: Despite almost a decade of city promises to private investors, Uptown is still marred by inadequate sidewalks and and a crumbling Telegraph Ave.
  • Capricious public policy: The Oakland City Council is famously myopic, and can swing radically from pro-growth policies as outlined in the Downtown rezoning to the development-last approach of the Lake Merritt Specific Plan. Outdated ordinances like the Amusement Fee continue to bother businesses. But Downtown will get a new City Council Member next year, and no matter who wins, we’ll see a fresh approach to downtown.

Enjoy your downtown weekend, and thanks for reading this blog, and enjoying the heart of our fair city!


The Crossroads Makes a Comeback

March 23, 2012

Not long ago, it seemed that 14th and Broadway was not going to enjoy downtown’s Renaissance. Despite (or perhaps because of) official attention, the crossroads of Oakland suffered from empty or low-quality storefronts, the departure of the Gap, and then some pretty disturbing criminal activity and threats against business from the local Occupy cohort. Weekly and special events like the East Bay Bike Party and the Running Festival departed Frank Ogawa Plaza, and even the historic Jack London Oak tree was threatened by urination.

But then Occupy dwindled to nothing and pent-up demand to hang out downtown started filling up restaurants again. And retail businesses, inspired by below-market leases for two clothing shops on either side of Broadway between 14th and 15th, began to see the potential of the area. As the Oakland Running Festival returns this weekend – with a new home base at Snow Park (19th and Harrison) – downtown welcomes several new businesses to the blocks surrounding 14th and Broadway. Perhaps even more exciting, it’s been announced that a tenant will fill the last remaining empty storefront at this key intersection, a tenant that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago: Chase Manhattan Bank.

  • Bittersweet Cafe: The chocolate-lovers’ coffee and dessert haven has opened in the same building as Oaklandish, on Broadway just past 14th. Artisanal chocolate, imported candy, rich desserts and of course coffee are sold within.
  • Awaken Cafe: It’s been open about a month at its large Broadway location and become a favorite hangout for civic-minded meetings thanks to its spacious and private seating arrangement.
  • Oakollectiv Expands: Well, not physically, but the clothing store opened by two European-born designers will begin to incorporate the works of additional local clothiers as Spring continues.

This key intersection is on the rise but two events centered in Uptown will be the highlights of the weekend. The Oakland Running Festival, whose signature marathon is Sunday morning, runs all weekend, centered at Snow Park. See the website for a full course and activity list – and beware of traffic and transit snarls.

A very special, once-in-a-lifetime screening of silent film masterpiece Napoleon will be at the Paramount this weekend and next. The 5.5 hour epic is lightened considerably by two intermissions and a long dinner break – and Flora will accommodate film buffs by opening this and next Sunday, in addition to their regular Saturdays, for lunch and dinner.

Whether you’re imagining conquering the world, or just trying to conquer that next mile, this DTO weekend is for you!

Comments Off