Many, many years ago, just a few months after I launched this blog, I pitched this idea:
I wrote to then-and-still-current Oakland Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3) about the potential of this site. After a bit of nagging on my part, I was told that other development was “in the pipeline”. Disappointed, I looked elsewhere.
The ballpark site was considered the southern end of Broadway Auto Row. In 2005, the City of Oakland was pushing to move several car dealerships out of the district, gambling on the idea that the area could become the city’s long lost retail mecca. The dealerships were meant to move to the Coliseum area (some did) or the Army Base (they didn’t). Now Broadway Auto Row sits either empty or with car dealerships still there, a fair albeit underwhelming use of land in the city’s urban core. It’s an area begging for redevelopment, but as a result of scuttling of the institution, it lacks the funding needed to make the sea change happen. A feature in the SF Public Press by Alexis Fitts chronicles much of the failed planning and good intentions.
There were dreams to build a retail district to rival Union Square, even as Emeryville ate Oakland’s lunch. Grandiose plans for a over 1 million square feet of retail with Nordstrom and Macy’s as anchors never materialized. It occurred to me that these massive scale plans from several years ago had much of the same lofty language being used now for Coliseum City. Oakland’s used JRDV as a master plan consultant back then, and they’re using the same firm for Coliseum City now. Sub in the Raiders, A’s, and Warriors for Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Target, and it’s very similar: big dreams, little realism.
Sights have shifted to include more housing in the plan, which is fine in that it’s in keeping with the region’s growth. The retail strategy could shift to a focus on hipsters with stores like American Apparel (the only A.A. in the East Bay is in Berkeley). Without public incentives to lure retailers in it’s a very tough sell.
It’s a similar tough sell for the pro sports franchises. During the S.O.S. meeting on Monday, I brought up the potential of infrastructure finance districts. They’re redevelopment in the new era, with less money to throw around and lower expectations in keeping with less money. I reported last week that the City of San Jose approved an extension of the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District. The PBID pays for Groundwerx, a downtown beautification program that cleans up litter and sidewalks, removes graffiti, covers utility boxes in vinyl wraps, and provides a welcome/concierge element to downtown with the crew of Segway-riding, neon-clad employees. Groundwerx will cost $2.2 million for 2013 and is worth the cost, as evidenced by the 91% approval among downtown landowners.
Before Oakland reaches for the stars again and starts dreaming about being San Francisco, it might want to see what’s feasible within city limits. If it wants to make Oakland more attractive to businesses and consumers, it should make downtown/uptown actually visually attractive to those contingents. This weekend, there are little gymnasts and their parents walking around downtown SJ, and the place looks clean, welcoming, and hospitable. Even with that image boost, there’s little hope for great retail there. Valley Fair and Santana Row have ruined downtown SJ for retail for next several decades at the very least, thanks to their free parking and safe, sealed environments. Whether Oakland goes mainstream or hipster or both, it’s going to take a long time to develop any significant retail in downtown or the Coliseum area. New measures are the new skin-in-the-game.
As for Broadway Auto Row, it’s too bad no one ran with the ballpark idea. There weren’t too many landowners. All it needed was a champion within City Hall.