The Port of Oakland is scheduled to begin work late this month on a $260 million dredging project that will expand the port's capabilities and cement the facility's position as the cargo shipping center for Northern California. The project is only one of many the port district is pursuing that could eventually bring more than 10,000 industrial, retail, service and white-collar jobs to Oakland. A new intermodal terminal is set to open this fall, providing much improved rail access to ships.
The port district is also scheduled this month to select a developer for 60 acres of waterfront along the Oakland Estuary. Two heavyweight developers submitted proposals for mixed-use projects along the water. Additional commercial development of the Port District's Jack London Square is also in the planning stages. The projects are part of the transformation of Oakland's waterfront. While San Francisco's waterfront is a mix of industry, offices, tourist-oriented retail offerings and public parks, Oakland's waterfront is dominated by industry.
The Port of Oakland handles about 98% of goods shipped into and out of the Bay Area. But the port district also owns about 600 acres east of the port itself that many people believe could be key to the city's economic future. Two years ago, the port district adopted an Estuary Plan for its holdings along the estuary that separates Oakland and Alameda. The area now contains offices, restaurants and shops at Jack London Square, numerous industrial users, and a mix of artists lofts, warehouses and other businesses. The plan reinforces Jack London Square's orientation as a regional attraction and community gathering place, and it protects many industrial uses. But it also calls for extensive mixed-use development and a string of parks connected by bikeways ï¿½ all of which is intended to connect the waterfront and downtown Oakland, which are separated by the I-880 Freeway. The port's Board of Directors took a step toward implementing the Estuary Plan in April when it voted to work with a private partnership (composed of Cargill and local developers Ellis Partners and James Falaschi) on further development of Jack London Square.
The port and the private developers continue to negotiate but are close to reaching an agreement, said Steve Hanson, the port's project manager for Jack London Square. The project will replace surface parking lots, a failing mall that has already been demolished, and vacant lots with 300,000 square feet of offices, 90,000 square feet of retail shops and a 250-room hotel. Although Jack London Square gets a reported 6 million visitors a year, the knock is that it has no real connection to the water. The Jack London Square Phase II project aims to change that.
"We intend to create a project that will enhance public access to the waterfront, pedestrian uses, alternative transit and expand neighborhood, city and regional-serving retail," said Hal Ellis, one of the partners in the $200 million development. "It will enhance Jack London Square," added the port's Hanson. "We don't think Jack London Square has the density that it really needs. There's just not enough retail synergy."
Farther east lies 60 acres where the Estuary Plan envisions extensive mixed-use development along the Embarcadero. Two teams have submitted proposals for the "Oak-to-Ninth District," and the port's Board of Directors could select a developer as early as this month. Shorenstein Co. and Interland Corp. submitted one proposal to the port district, while a partnership of Signature Properties and Reynolds & Brown submitted a competing plan. The four companies are among the Bay Area's biggest developers, demonstrating the site's potential. The Signature/Reynolds & Brown proposal calls for low- and mid-rise development. It emphasizes condominium development and a large retail complex similar to Seattle's Pike Place Market. The Shorenstein/Interland plan contains a tower of up to 24 stories. There would be extensive office space, public plazas and links to the Lake Merritt district next to downtown.
"We feel we can create a famous destination address," said Richard Reisman, an Interland vice president. Shorenstein/Interland propose realigning the Embarcadero so that it matches the rest of the Oakland street grid and does not feel like an isolated loop, Reisman said. That helps tie the project to the rest of town, he said.
"So many cities have brought themselves up by their bootstraps by revitalization of their waterfront, and then extending that revitalization further into town," Reisman said.
Oakland waterfront activist Sandra Threlfall said the port district appears to be on the right track. She said the ideal development along the waterfront would phase from industrial at one end, to commercial, to mixed-use, to residential, to nonprofit facilities, to parks. Threlfall, who chairs the Waterfront Coalition, a collection of environmental and civic groups, said she had no confidence the port district would do the right thing for the community when she became active seven years ago.
"I am very confident in the port today, and I believe they have come an incredible distance in seven years," Threlfall said. Threlfall said developers should build a waterfront that serves locals first. A thriving waterfront district that matches the community will naturally draw tourists, she argued. And she cautioned against glitzy buildings. "Let's not try to compete with San Francisco. We are our own place," Threlfall said.
How exactly the port district's development plans jibe with the City of Oakland's view of the waterfront is uncertain. Mayor Jerry Brown has spoken about increasing public access to the waterfront. The port has allowed the city to extend its land use jurisdiction to the waterfront, so projects on port property will need city approval. There is a potential for conflict over tax revenue from some port district properties that lie within a city redevelopment zone. (City officials did not return telephone calls.) Of course, the port's shipping facilities remain its economic centerpiece.
In July, the port district signed an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers that amounted to the final approval for the dredging project. The port now has 42-foot-deep channels, and the project will deepen those to 50 feet, allowing the port to accommodate the largest container ships and prevent the port from losing business to facilities in Canada and Mexico. The project will take about five years and also will require annual funding allocations from Congress, said port spokesman Harold Jones. The port and the federal government are sharing equally the $260 million project. Port officials estimate the project will lead to the creation of 8,000 direct and indirect jobs, a 50% increase over current job levels.
Maybe as important as the channel deepening is the intermodal terminal that is nearing completion on the former Oakland Army Base. The project provides direct rail access to shipping terminals, making handling more efficient and expanding capacities, Jones said. The rail line runs 11 miles to a large rail yard in Richmond.
Contacts: Steve Hanson, Port of Oakland, (510) 627-1218. Sandra Threlfall, Waterfront Coalition, (510) 339-9233. Richard Reisman, Interland Corp., (650) 574-9200. Port of Oakland website: www.portofoakland.com