601 City Center fills in the last giant hole in a larger project called Oakland City Center. Established 30 years ago, Oakland City Center is the end result of a California urban renewal project that started back in the early 70s, when then-Oakland Redevelopment Agency Director John Willams, oversaw the removal of the largest group of Victorian homes in that part of Oakland, ever. (And is the reason “Preservation Park,” next door, has that name.) It was a move that was controversial, and the bad feelings about that exist to this day for some.
The erasure left 12 undeveloped blocks of property that halmarked Oakland’s economic development problems of the time, all caused by institutional investor racism. Fear of the then-60 percent black Oakland casued development money to avoid Downtown Oakland for years.
But that started to change in 1988, when Bramalea Pacific Development Company proposed Oakland City Center. This author was an intern at the Oakland Office of Economic Development and Employment and fresh out of Berkeley’s Planning School in 1987. There was an excitement around the City Center Development project, and because it’s full model, with each block filled in by a building that exists today, was a statement on Oakland’s future.
Now, today, 601 City Center is the last major building to be constructed in Oakland City Center, as it was envisioned back then. It’s a hallmark moment missed by the City of Oakland because what collective institutional memory our city had is largely gone (and due to a rash of changes from Rank Choice Voting to the destruction of California Redevelopment Law, which Oakland used to finance economic development projects and counter investor racism) and replaced by the old racist tropes about Oakland and the Black Panthers, as if that was the only thing Oakland will ever be known for. But I digress.
Yes, 601 City Center is the completion of City Center, but in that, it comes with a couple of messages one disturbing, the other funny.
This is the disturbing message: the 601 City Center building by The Shorenstein Company has architectural renderings on its website that forget Oakland ever had black people! Why this is done, and considering the “BBQ Becky” Jennifer Schulte and “Jogger Joe” Henry Sintay problem Oakland has today, is beyond me. The website of the building openly has these images that show renderings only of white people using the building. That should be changed. It’s a horrible statement in a society that has come to expect and demand racial diversity.
This is the funny message: that 375,000 square feet of space is available, making the building the largest emply space of its kind avalable in Oakland or San Francisco. At a time when the office vacancy rate in Downtown Oakland’s around 5 percent, that means one thing: the space is overpriced.
It’s amazing how often real estate brokers over-price their Downtown Oakland office space when there’s demand for office space in the city. They’re going to have to come down a bit, in my view.
And embrace showing black people in Oakland.
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