Oakland’s Brooklyn Basin Project Ready for Prime Time

registry-Brooklyn Basin 2By Robert Carlsen

After more than 13 years of planning, prepping and postponements, the 65-acre, multi-use Brooklyn Basin project adjacent to the Oakland’s Estuary just southeast of Jack London Square has moved ahead with the first of four phases of construction with confidence that buyer demand is at a premium, according to speakers at a recent Urban Land Institute presentation in downtown Oakland.

Paul Zeger, a principal at San Francisco-based Polaris Pacific, a real estate sales and marketing firm and part of the development team, said the housing marketplace in Oakland is “looking very positive.” At least 15,000 consumers want to buy a median-priced home in San Francisco, he said, but because most available inventory is high-end, many of these buyers are looking across the bay.

The Brooklyn Basin development, formerly called Oak to Ninth, is trying to win over those shopping for space. “What we’re trying to accomplish is bring opportunity out of the developer’s head and into the hearts of the consumers,” Zeger said.

Eric Harrison, the vice president of development at Signature Development Group of Oakland, said that the site, currently a degraded former port/industrial area south of Interstate 880, is entitled for 3,100 housing units, with 465 of those slated to be affordable. Most buildings will be six to eight stories with some going up to 24 stories. The development also will feature 200,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, 30 acres of parks and open space, and the renovation of two marinas and 200 boat slips. A new pedestrian and bicycle trail along the waterfront will hook up with a section of the Bay Trail.

The on-site historic, Beaux Arts-style Ninth Avenue Terminal, currently at 180,000 square feet, will be partially demolished down to 20,000 square feet and architecturally restored with an open pavilion used for concerts and other events. The terminal, which was originally built in the 1920s and expanded in the 1950s, was designed for break-bulk (non-container) cargo.

Work on the first parcels, comprising of 1,200 units that also include the affordable units, will begin next year. ARA Real Estate Investment Services is the broker for the initial parcels in phase one. Full completion is scheduled for 2021, depending on the housing market.

Harrison said the goal of the “urban walkable” project is to “create a significant opportunity for open space and public access that really embraces the waterfront.” Because of the site’s isolation—it is essentially cut off by I-880 and adjacent rail tracks—and transportation barriers, he said Signature and the city are working on transit and roadway options, including a private shuttle to the nearby Lake Merritt BART station and the ferry terminal at Jack London Square.

The project began in 2001 when the city of Oakland released a request for qualifications “to build a new environment, but not industrial,” Harrison said. Signature, along with joint venture partner Reynolds & Brown of San Leandro, agreed to a purchase and sale agreement with the city in 2003 followed by professional services and options agreements in 2004; land use approvals and filing of California Environmental Quality Act litigation in 2006; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission permit approval in 2011; and state Department of Toxic Substances Control approval, also in 2011.

During that time, a historic preservation group sued the joint venture regarding its plan to demolish most of the historic Ninth Avenue Terminal, located on the site. This delayed the start of construction, which along with the recession of 2009 dried up most of the financing.

Last year while on a trade mission in Beijing, Gov. Jerry Brown and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, announced an investment deal between China-based investor Zarsion Holdings Group Co., Ltd. and joint venture partner Oakland Harbor Partners, comprised of Signature and Reynolds & Brown, to help fund the $1.5 billion project. (The legal entity developing Brooklyn Basin is Zarsion-OHP1, LLC. Signature is the development manager of the LLC.)

In a project update, Harrison said Gallagher & Burk Inc. of Oakland is doing site remediation, which will include removing hydrocarbons and solids from soil and groundwater. Oakland-based Alarcon Bohm is handling construction of the temporary Bay Trail.

Harrison said that part of the overall plan approved with the city includes using Oakland businesses, as well as agreements with community groups via Community Benefits Agreements that the developers would provide $1.6 million for job training—mainly construction/apprentice related—hire local Oakland residents and preserve a portion of the Ninth Avenue Terminal.

Other local partners on the development team include engineering firms BKF Engineers; ENGEO Inc.; Erler & Kalinowski, Inc.; and Moffatt & Nichol. Also working on the project are Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants; ROMA Design Group; Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP; and Stice & Block, LLP.

Rendering Credit: Zarsion-OHP1, LLC

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