Visit Oakland’s Mark Everton Says Hotel Development Costs Too High, Tourism #2 Employer

In an Oakland that seems to be bent on giving away the development store to tech companies, guess what the second largest employer is? Give up? It’s tourism-related activities, according to Mark Everton, the President of Visit Oakland: The Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau. He talked with this vlogger just after his presentation to the Oakland City Council at the June 19th meeting.

“Tourism is flourishing in Oakland, which is great” Mr. Everton said, “as I mentioned to (City) Council we (Oakland) saw over 3.7 million visitors last year (2017). Tourism, for a big surprise to a lot of people, is the second largest private employer in Oakland. It employs a little over 7,100 residents in Oakland in the Tourism Industry. It’s just shy of $900 million in monetary gain for the City (of Oakland). And about $150 million of that goes into taxes and the general fund and the County (of Alameda). So it’a really a great economic driver for the City of Oakland and really a wonderful business to have.”

Everton shed light on one of Oakland’s biggest problems: a convention center so small, that calling it a convention center and not a ballroom is a bad joke on the City of Oakland. Everton says that our convention center is just 100,000 square feet in size, whereas there are ballroom spaces in Las Vegas that are 3 million square feet in size. “So there’ a desperate need for (a convention center), and I’m hopefull that with the Oakland A’s selection of a stadium site, their may be an opportunity to look at a convention center to complement it.”

Since Oakland built the Oakland Convention Center in 1988, the City has watched as San Francisco and even other much smaller cities move past it to have large meeting spaces and hotels. The San Francisco Hotel Council says that there is a 16,000 room gap in San Francisco. That’ translates to unmet demand that an Oakland series of hotels can take advantage of, and yet Oakland has done nothing.

From my experience in forming the bid to bring the Super Bowl to Oakland, our city is in need of one meeting facility that is has at least 900,000 square feet of space and for that, alone, and at least 15,000 new hotel rooms. That allows for a lot of event planning flexibility, allows attendees to stay in Oakland, and puts Oakland on an international level of competition for events and shows.

Everton says that one reason we don’t see a lot of hotels being built in Oakland is that it’s expensive and they don’t pay for themselves. When I continued to press him on this idea, Everton said that they were continuing to be built in San Francisco, but not in Oakland.

It’s important to add here, if only to close the loop around this discussion, because Mark is shy to say what the reason is for this hotel cost problem, that some in Oakland claim the labor union concessions are to blame. As a pro-union person, this blogger’s take is to invite union representatives into a plan to mitigate that problem (to the extent the problem really does exist and is not just conservative dislike for unions). Oakland needs at least 5,000 new rooms right now, and has never embarked on a plan to build hotels. And now, they’re more expensive than ever before to develop in Oakland.

The reason is because we don’t have redevelopment to use to help afford to lower or remove the losses associated with hotel development in Oakland.

The California Redevelopment Law system allowed cities to designated redevelopment project areas, and use the property tax from those zones to float bonds for the purpose of economic development as allowed in the now-removed section of the California Health and Safety Code 33000-33999. The Oakland Redevelopment Agency played a key role in the formation of Oakland, today, and from rebuilding Oakland City Hall after the 1989 Earthquake, to the removal of crack houses in East Oakland in the early 80s.

Now, there’s an effort to bring back Redevelopment in the form of a bill called AB 3037. Push for it.

We need Redevelopment Law back, ASAP.

Stay tuned.

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