By Meghan Hall
The City of Emeryville, Calif., has a long history of creativity and innovation, and it is known as a home to numerous household-name companies such as Pixar, Cliff Bar and Peet’s Coffee. Over the years, Emeryville officials have implemented the Public Art Master Plan and continually host the Emeryville Celebration of the Arts in order to showcase the City’s broad array of talent. However, throughout the Bay Area — including Emeryville — there has been a severe lack of arts and creative space, and smaller arts enterprises are often displaced or closed. 2018 has been an active year for Emeryville city officials who are working with Emeryville-based Orton Development Inc. (ODI) to breathe life into a new arts center that will rise on the Old United Stamping site, located at 4060 Hollis St.
“Emeryville has a robust community of artists and makers, but both Emeryville and the East Bay in general have a shortage of studio, gallery and venue space for visual and digital artists,” explained David Dial, an ODI project manager. “This project will provide much-needed space for East Bay’s arts community, as well as a permanent home for Emeryville’s annual Celebration of the Arts, a month-long festival that just completed its 32nd year.”
Preliminary project plans for the site include a roughly 5,000 square foot, 222 seat theater, a 1,380 square foot courtyard, a café, a small retail space and 7,500 square feet of gallery space. ODI plans to retrofit the old United Stamping building on the existing site and, as part of its plans, hopes to incorporate the building into the adjacent Emeryville Civic Center, which consists of the Industrial Arts center built in 1942, the original City Hall built in 1902 and the new City Center constructed in 2001.
“We want these three architecturally distinct buildings to tell the story of Emeryville from its industrial beginnings to the ‘City of Art and Innovation’ it is today,” said Dial.
Emeryville City officials have had their eye on the site for some time, since it was acquired by the City in 2006 through the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency. By 2011, the project had undergone public hearings, and a plan and budget were approved. However, it would be years before the plans for the Arts Center could move forward.
“The proposal had a capital budget shortfall,” explained Chadrick Smalley, the economic development and housing manager for the City of Emeryville. “With the elimination of Redevelopment as a source of funding, that plan for the Art Center was shelved.”
It wasn’t until early 2017 that the project was restarted after some of the original redevelopment-related funds were restored, and Pixar Animation studios contributed $2 million towards the completion of the project. By the beginning of January 2018, the city was holding study sessions and soliciting public commentary. By summer of 2018, the City had selected ODI as its partner to redevelop the property.
“We value the clear contribution the arts community makes to the quality of life and character of the city and choose to go beyond our innovative Art in Public Places program to create a true home for the arts at the heart of town,” said Smalley. “We take the art sector as a business seriously and recognize its contribution to the local economy.”
While the design of the building is still in its early stages, ODI and the City plan to create an arts center that pulls from the history of the Old United Stamping site and Emeryville’s recent distinction as one of the State’s 14 Cultural Districts. Dial said that the original building will keep much of its original, industrial aesthetic, but with the addition of new skylights, outdoor space and large windows along the Hollis St. façade to invite the public inside. Large, flexible spaces in the building will be created using the existing high ceilings and column spacing.
“The building has a rich history, and we want to preserve and highlight the historic fabric of the space while making it suitable for new use,” said Dial.
“The City Council indicated it’s appreciation of the conceptual proposal’s approach to restoring a Significant Building in Emeryville while addressing modern floor plan needs and features supportive of arts-related uses,” said Smalley. “The current plan is a conceptual plan but will be further developed through the development review process.”
Currently, ODI and the City hope to have the new arts center up and running by the third quarter of 2020. However, that timeline is subject to change based on numerous factors such as design and funding processes. Whenever the final product is revealed, all parties involved are excited to be moving forward.
“We are still in the early stages of our public outreach campaign, but there is a tremendous eagerness to see something happen at the site,” said Dial. “Emeryville has worked for over a decade to bring forward an arts center and has integrated extensive community input along the way. We look forward to continuing that work as plans for the center develop.”