After attending the Economic Development Commission meeting at city hall on October 18, I came away dismayed by the commission’s lackluster interest in planning the reuse of Alameda Point.
The occasion marked the first of three public presentations on the latest economic development strategy for Alameda Point. Noting that the city faces tough competition due to a glut of commercial space from Berkeley to Fremont, the city’s consultant—Keyser Marston Associates, Inc.—offered several suggestions. As the lone public speaker, I added another. The commission offered none.
What strategy for the Point has been missing for 15 years? According to the consultant, it’s branding—invoking a positive image with place-making and identity, adding better signage and creating attractive “front doors,” and sprucing up existing eyesores. The consultant suggested targeted marketing—issuing requests for proposals for certain buildings and areas, and providing a marketing package outlining opportunities and constraints for investors. We need to become noticed in the commercial real estate world, the consultant told us.
Following the presentation on this $225,000 federally funded study, Chairman Bob Reeves told the consultant it had presented “nothing new,” that he had heard it all before.
Next up, I advocated capitalizing on our waterfront open space with public access as the brand identity. Extensive research has shown that open space/parkland can serve as the anchor and engine for economic development, according to a study that Golden Gate University’s Center on Urban Environmental Law delivered to the city last year. It is one of the best strategies to maintain high urban property values and the economic health of a community. With the East Bay Regional Park District poised to build a new 147-acre park and manage most of the Veteran Administration’s vacant land and eventually Enterprise Park, green space should be our first land use priority and the defining centerpiece that distinguishes us from other communities.
After I spoke, Chairman Reeves immediately lamented about how the city had once tried unsuccessfully to have an open space design by building a golf course and a hotel (on the Northwest Territories), but that “a group of environmentalists” had killed the project because they “fought very hard to keep the first 100 feet of the waterfront undeveloped for trails.” Nonsense.
The project died because the city could not find a hotel operator willing to build a $43.5 million luxury hotel at Alameda Point.
“When the RFP was sent to select a developer team or to explore the market on the hotels, the deal structure was not one that indicated that the market was ready, so the hotel development piece was placed on hold.” Debbie Potter, city staff, August 2, 2006, Meeting Minutes, Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority
“Chair Johnson reminded the Board that there was a several-year process where this consideration was going on – we had a Hotel expert and even had an RFP on hotel complexes. At that time, however, the downturn in the economy left the only people willing to propose a project was that we owned a five-star hotel and paid them to manage it, and that was something the ARRA wasn’t willing to do.” June 7, 2006, Meeting Minutes, Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority
Additionally, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has jurisdiction over the first 100 feet of shoreline.
We need forward thinking, positive energy that recognizes the value of green space as part of an economic strategy. It’s one of our biggest assets. Even our Alameda Point leasing agent, PM Realty, touts the Point’s “unique ecological and biological characteristics” as one of the reasons to locate a business there.
The consultant will bring its presentation to the Planning Board on November 26.
A shorter version of this story was published in the Alameda Sun.
Related story: Greenspace Becomes Us.