By Meghan Hall
In October 2017, Chinese developer Pinnacle RED Group announced that it had submitted plans to the City of Oakland with the intent to construct a high-rise mixed-use building at 1261 Harrison. The proposed tower was going to be 36 stories, or 440 feet in height, and upon its completion would have been Oakland’s tallest building. However, in July of 2018, the project hit a snag after the Oakland Planning Commission decided not to vote on the project and recommended Pinnacle RED work to redesign the project.
According to City documents, the recommendation to redesign the tower originated with planning staff due to the height of the building and the fact that one of the city’s historic assets would be demolished in the process. Currently, the project site is located in the King Building Group Area and is part of a collection of five buildings used beginning in 1904 by Charles H. King, a businessman and developer in the area. Today, the building is used for retail.
Pinnacle RED’s original proposal consisted of 185 residential units, 130,000 square feet of office space and 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail. Last fall, however, given feedback from the Planning Department and community, Pinnacle RED went back to the drawing board.
“We got a continuum from the Planning Commission hearing to allow us to go back and redesign, work with the community, work with stakeholders,” explained Ronnie Turner, development manager at Pinnacle RED. “We had a lot of support for the tower, even though we may not have gotten the support we needed from the Planning Department and Planning Commission. So, we went back, and through the advice and consultation of the Planning Department, we devised a way of coming up with different options for a 246-foot tower that would maintain the existing façade and would allow us to have a base more in context with the surrounding area.”
The revised proposal will include 185 units of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as a ground floor envelop for commercial and non-profit uses. The original building façade will be preserved, and the new building will include no office space. According to Turner, Pinnacle RED is still working through the new development’s new design, with no new renderings yet available.
However, the project took a positive step forward at the beginning of July, when the Landmarks Board voted 4-1 in favor of the future development and directed a subcommittee of three board members to continue working with Pinnacle RED on finalizing the details of the proposal. The Board asked the development team to better define the design and use of the retail entryways, which are part of the existing arched structure, and further explore how the upper, setback levels of the building can better relate to the preserved façade. There was also discussion about formalizing the development’s ground floor uses and solidifying the tenant profile for the space. Currently, said Turner, plans are to include a mix of gallery, non-profit, maker and food spaces that will serve as a benefit to the local community.
“That corridor [of Oakland], is a festive place. We want to reflect the city’s wonderful cultural diversity, and especially this downtown area as we accommodate new and existing retail tenants, both in the interim during the approvals process and in the new building,” said Turner. “Our ground floor will be very active. There’s a strong convergence of culture that has been here for a long time, and we want to highlight that.”
The project site sits on the edge of downtown, China Town and the Black Arts Movement District (BAMBD). While China Town has its own distinctive festivals, restaurants and community events, the BAMBD has a mission of preserving African American heritage through a strategy of economic development; both are populations Turner believes the development will serve well in the future as a cultural gateway between communities in the city. Both the BAMBD and Chinatown Chamber of Commerce submitted letters of support to the Landmarks Board backing the project.
Pinnacle RED has 60 days to revise its proposal before returning to the full Landmarks Board. The goal, said Turner, is to accomplish those revisions within the next two months, after which time the project would begin the design review process. Planning approval likely wouldn’t take place until 2020, and currently, there is no estimated price tag for the project.
In the meantime, however, Turner believes the revisions have been worth it. “I want to commend the process,” he said. “Our focus is the fair and equitable process that the city has created, and it’s evolving as development has evolved in Oakland. It’s been a community process, and we’re looking forward to educating the public more on what it takes to do residential development.”