By Meghan Hall
Deciding what to do with General Electric’s (GE) 24-acres in Oakland’s Melrose neighborhood hasn’t been easy; the site’s size, central location and historic resources have made it a point of interest for developers, city officials and community groups alike. After years of delay, however, the Oakland City Planning Commission will hear a new preliminary proposal from Chicago-based Bridge Development Partners for the site this Wednesday, January 16th, kicking off another round of reviews and community hearings. Bridge is working with GE on a proposal for a roughly 540,000 square foot industrial building for the site. Bridge, a national industrial developer, is known to focus on markets with high barriers to entry and sites that are often difficult to entitle.
“Bridge’s unique value proposition is to work closely with sellers and brokers to acquire sites that present many development challenges that run the gamut from environmental to entitlement,” explained Tom Ashcraft, a senior vice president at Bridge. “The more difficult the development, the more Bridge is able to leverage its expertise to solve problems that others deem as too challenging.”
No formal application has been proposed yet, but according to city documents, Bridge plans to demolish all eight industrial buildings currently located at 5441 International Blvd. in Oakland, except for the front portion of Building 1, which would be incorporated into a new building totaling almost 540,000 square feet. 528,744 of the proposed square footage would be warehousing, while the remaining 10,000 square feet of space would be reserved for office and mezzanine uses. 93 dock doors, 360 parking stalls and 110,446 square feet of landscaping are also included in the project plans.
In 2017, GE agreed to sell the site to Bridge Development at a later date. According to Ashcraft, Bridge is under contract to purchase the property from GE, and the sale will close upon receiving entitlements from the City of Oakland.
City Staff has already determined that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will need to be prepared for the project. In 2011, GE had submitted a request for an EIR to demolish all existing structures on the site to proceed with site remediation and to address a public nuisance complaint against the property. However, the review of the proposal became more complicated when the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey (OCHS) assigned a property rating of “Highest [Historical] Importance” to Building 1, and concerns over the extensive remediation required and the lack a solidified plan for development emerged. Environmental remediation efforts that began have 1980 have been unsuccessful to eliminate the PCBs, lead and other toxins on the site, according to city documents.
“Development of the site presents several challenges, and Bridge is dealing with each one of them head on,” said Ashcraft. “Since Bridge has been involved on the site, Bridge has been working with GE and city, state and federal officials on the continued management of the existing environmental conditions and the ongoing monitoring of the site during and after development.”
The buildings were constructed between 1924 and 1975 and are part of the 57th Avenue Industrial District comprised of 21 buildings on 22 parcels in Central East Oakland. According to OCHS, the district appears eligible for listing to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation could make it more difficult for Bridge to receive approval to tear the buildings down. Ashcraft said that the plans presented to the City will also address the landmark designation of the buildings earmarked by OCHS.
The site is located between 54th and 57th Avenues, east of San Leandro St. and the BART tracks. At 24 acres, it is a sizeable development opportunity and an increasingly rare one as infill projects become more common and large plots of land become scarce. Situated just off of Interstate 880 and State Route 185, the property is easily accessible from San Francisco, downtown Oakland and Berkeley.
“The location and scale of the development will attract best-in-class users who can benefit from access to the area’s incredibly talented labor pool and nearby consumers,” said Ashcraft.
Bridge plans to submit a formal project application in the near future, said Ashcraft, and the developer hopes to break ground on the project by the fourth quarter of 2019. Construction will start as soon as possible, despite changing market conditions.
“Bridge anticipates moving forward with the construction of the project as soon as possible,” Ashcraft said. “Bridge believes there is a strong demand for this project in this location and does not expect that to change as the economy ebbs and flows.”