By Meghan Hall
In a victory for both the City of Alameda and master developer Alameda Marina, the Alameda Marina project, which would redevelop 44 acres along the City’s northern waterfront, received unanimous approval from the City Council and the Planning Board at the end of July to advance the project. The vote of support means that after almost a decade of careful planning, redevelopment can finally begin on the long-underutilized and outdated marina.
“I think it’s really a testament to the public process,” said Andrew Thomas, the assistant community development director for the City of Alameda, on the challenges that were overcome to get approval. “The council was originally confronted with a lot of unhappy people. But even opponents understand why the plan has to happen now. This is reinvesting in land that we, the people of Alameda, own.”
The Alameda Marina was a hub for ship-building during World War II and since the 1950s has been used as a marine craft maintenance and industrial boating facility. However, since its transition from ship-building to boat storage, the marina has been grossly underused and minimally updated; the seawall had not been reinforced in years due to a lack of city funds.
“The City couldn’t afford to reinvest in the property, because the prior lease wasn’t long enough,” said Thomas. “The only way to finance the project was to completely rebuild everything and redevelop the property. The lessee had been putting money into the property, but not the serious stuff that was necessary.”
The marina’s site is composed of both private and public lands; while the southern portion of the property is owned by Pacific Shops, Inc. (PSI), the northern portion is owned by the City of Alameda in trust for the State of California. Currently, the tidelands that are owned by the City are leased to PSI, who signed a new 66-year lease in 2012. The new lease required PSI to submit a development plan by 2016.
“It was a product of a lack of reinvestment over time, probably because it was in an industrial area as to how this area might transform,” added Sean Murphy, partner at Alameda Marina, the development entity associated with San Francisco-based developer Bay West Group.
Not only has there been a lack of funding for the marina’s redevelopment over the years, but City officials and developers initially faced a lot of backlash from local Alamedans regarding the project. The City and Alameda Marina received a lot of concerned statements from both businesses, who were used to the site’s low rents, but also residents, who had long fought large-scale, mixed-use developments in the area through legislation such as Measure A, which was passed overwhelmingly in 1973.
“New housing developments in Alameda can be very contentious; there’s always tremendous concern from certain parts of the community about the impacts of new housing,” explained David Burton, a resident of Alameda and the executive director of architecture for KTGY, the design firm hired to work on the Alameda Marina project.
In 2012, the City adopted a state-mandated Housing Element that identified 11 sites for multi-unit housing, in response to the Bay Area’s growing housing crisis, despite the Measure A ban. The Alameda Marina site was one of such sites chosen, and with the site now zoned for mixed-used development as part of the City’s General Plan, formal plans to redevelop the property have finally been able to move forward.
Alameda Marina has been working closely with KTGY, the City and locals to produce a viable plan for the waterfront property; the process has taken years and over 80 public meetings.
“I’ve been a part of the project since 2008,” said Murphy, “but we’re really energized by the unanimous support.”
The Alameda Marina project is described by officials as a true mixed-use plan that includes a residential component and a commercial maritime core in an effort to reconnect the waterfront to the community.
“Because of the way the site was originally developed, it is very walled-off from the rest of the city. A large part of the effort is really to break down that barrier between the site and the surrounding neighborhood as much as possible,” explained Burton. “We want people to be able to access different kinds of activity centers and engage with the waterfront and incorporate the waterfront into the City.”
A waterlife park that includes publicly accessible docks, educational facilities and paddleboard and kayak rentals are also part of the plans. The property’s new commercial core will reposition the the historic maritime buildings to create new storefronts and plazas and will also include a new maritime amenity building. The wharf and existing marina will be extensively renovated and updated to adhere to seismic codes and safety regulations.
The current master plan for the project would expand access to the site by increasing the number of access points to the site by opening up the existing street network, adding more open park space and creating a Bay Trail extension that would connect the East and West portion of the site. Other infrastructure improvements include repairing and replacing 4,009 linear feet of seawall— for which the price tag of that alone will run close to $15 million. Marina dredging, removal of debris, repairing the graving dock and updates to utility connections will run an additional $42 million.
Murphy estimates the entire project will cost around $400 million and says the housing portion of the development will pay for cost of the project.
“There are no grants out there for revitalizing marinas,a and we really have to rely on private funding,” Murphy admitted.
Plans for the development include roughly 760 residential units comprised of several housing types. A certain portion of the units will be apartments for rent, while others will be for-sale. 103 affordable housing units are also required by the Master Plan, and according to Burton, the units will be modestly sized in order to make them more accessible and affordable for middle-market buyers.
“Having mixed-use communities where you can live and buy something or work is one of the greatest things you can have in a neighborhood,” said Cindy Ma, the director of planning for KTGY’s Oakland office. Like Burton, Ma is also an Alameda resident.
The residential buildings will also come in a variety of designs. The development will include two to four bedroom townhomes that will range from 1,200 to 2,300 square feet in size. Three to four story buildings that include stacked flats will include units roughly the same size as the townhomes. A third type of building, called wrap buildings, will be four to five stories tall but include smaller studios and one to three bedroom units, ranging in size from 700 to 1,100 square feet.
The project will break ground sometime during 2019, and that construction will be completed in seven to 10 years, and everyone is eager to move forward.
“The fact that David and I are residents, and there’s quite a number of people from our Oakland office who live in Alameda, means we’re invested in this project too,” said Ma. “We love the community and want to see it grow and prosper into an even more vibrant community than it is now.”