By Jesse Douglas
Despite the still-weak national economy, these should be boom days for Oakland’s 98 year old Kaiser Auditorium. Ten years ago, Oakland voters passed the $198 million Measure DD water and park bond which, in part, completely renovated the southwestern end of Lake Merritt, near where the Kaiser sits.
But the Kaiser Convention Center has been empty and unused since 2005 when, at the request of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the Oakland City Council closed it down, saying that the Center was losing $600,000 to $700,000 a year in city funds.
In the six years since, through the two succeeding mayoral administrations of Ron Dellums and Jean Quan, the City has tried to either sell the Kaiser property, lease it out, or reopen it. None of the efforts have succeeded.
“When times are tough, everybody tries to sell off public land,” says Oakland Heritage Alliance board member Naomi Schiff, a veteran of Oakland’s many development battles. “It happens every time the city runs short of cash, they decide to sell off public assets.
But the assets around the lake are pretty irreplaceable, and they should not be sold off.”
But longtime Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner, Chair of the council’s Community and Economic Development committee that oversees development issues in the city, says that the Kaiser probably cannot be saved without some sort of private involvement.
“I think in reality, it has to be a combination,” Brunner said. I don’t know where you get the money to refurbish that building and keep the whole thing public.”
Late last year, the city issued a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) “to retain a Professional Real Estate Marketing or Brokerage Services firm to market the [Kaiser Convention Center] with the goal of identifying the optimal buyer, operator, tenant, or group of tenants.”
After a November walk-through of the building, two firms responded with proposals.
By that time, however, the rehabilitation of the Kaiser had been caught up in the statewide dissolution of California’s city redevelopment agencies.
The decision over what to do with the two proposals coming out of the Kaiser development RFQ will now be made by a state-mandated seven-member oversight board consisting of Mayor Quan and representatives of AC Transit, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Peralta Community College District, and the Oakland Unified School District.
Courtesy of “Race, Poverty and the Environment,” published by Urban Habitat.