While in December of 2016 the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire burned in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, a few blocks west sat a vacant 100-year-old warehouse purchased only a few months earlier by Oakland-based developer Riaz Capital. The firm bought the 120,000-square-foot former fruit and vegetable cannery in hopes of converting it into a live-work, workforce housing development, much like their other housing conversion projects in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay.
But the Ghost Ship Fire, which killed 36 people becoming the deadliest building fire in California since the 1906 earthquake, changed the destiny of Riaz’ new acquisition.
“The Oakland community was grappling with difficult questions about what led to the tragedy, how to repurpose obsolete industrial facilities, and how people could live in those spaces,” said Riaz Taplin, the principal and founder of Riaz Capital. “Those were important questions, but they also created unexpected delays for us if we were to pursue the residential project we had planned. To honor that moment of community grief and reflection, we decided to reimagine our use of the Lucasey Manufacturing facility to build a project that would serve the creative industries I had worked in for 20 years.”
That reimagining became Artthaus Studios: a coworking space with an artistic bend, whose second and final phase was unveiled earlier this month. Located at 2744 E 11th Street at 29th Avenue, between the Fruitvale and Jingletown neighborhoods, Artthaus Studios features private office and studio spaces ranging from 250 to 5,000 square feet as well as shared amenities that include a lounge, a staffed lobby, breakout rooms and a business center. Perhaps most notably, the outside and many of the inside walls of the formerly off-white cannery now feature colorful murals, making it visible from the BART train and the I-880 Freeway.
The first phase of the project, which offered smaller units, was fully leased to almost 100 small businesses from a variety of industries, including a photography studio, a digital marketing agency, a podcast, a children’s sneaker designer, as well as various nonprofits and startups. Riaz Capital, which employs 16 people on the development side, is also now housed out of Artthaus Studios.
The newly completed second phase, which offers 30 spaces that range between 3000 to 5000 square feet, is meant to attract mid-size businesses that want the flexibility and colorful vibe of Oakland’s newest shared space. The developers envision the larger spaces would be a good fit for architects, designers, digital media companies and startups.
Riaz’ project, which cost $25.7 million, straddles the line between a coworking space and artist studios. The murals that feature prominently on the outside and inside of the building are a harkening to the nearby Jingletown, which has become known for its several large live-work art studio warehouses, murals, and galleries, including the well-recognized Gray Loft Gallery.
Artthaus Studios’ chief architect Toby Levy of San Francisco architecture firm Levy Design Partners said the original expectation was that the project would attract mostly shops as well as industrial uses. However, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.
“The whole idea was to revitalize this abandoned building into something more dynamic, while keeping it clean and restoring the rigor that existed in the original cannery,” said Levy. “As the building is very big, it had to remain flexible. And as the users evolve, the feel of the space also changes.”
Even though the surrounding neighborhood is known for its art, at Artthaus Studios, non-creative businesses and startups are by no means turned away.
As Taplin explained, “We set out to co-locate core businesses with the accounting, legal, marketing and other professional services which are essential for entrepreneurship. Our goal was to create an entire ecosystem where an entrepreneur could grow from two people and a printer to a team of 50, with plenty of room in between.”
Yet this project isn’t exactly a coworking space either. Unlike other coworking spaces in the Bay Area where it’s possible to come in and grab a seat at a shared desk for as little as $200 per month, Artthaus doesn’t offer any open seating. Instead, its focus is on private spaces that can be customized for different mediums and that start at $800 per month. The typical leases are one to two years, though a month-to-month option is also available.
“Most of Oakland’s commercial space is being developed downtown, with higher rents and homogenous design,” Taplin explained. “We wanted to stand out, and still provide great value for independent business owners. Small-format spaces in the typical commercial developments downtown are also in short supply, so we see ourselves as providing a workspace solution for smaller organizations.”
Bora Chung, the Community Manager at Artthaus Studios, said that most tenants gravitate toward them because other coworking spaces with private offices tend to charge more for less. However, most of the city’s coworking spaces are also located in more accessible areas, such as Uptown and Downtown Oakland. While Artthaus Studios is a 15-minute walk from the Fruitvale BART Station, they also try to accommodate their tenants’ various transportation needs with two parking lots, bike rooms and scooters. Chung said most of their tenants live in Oakland, with a few people coming from San Francisco.
This is the first commercial project of its kind for Riaz Capital, an integrated development, construction and property management company founded in 1977 that currently owns and operates about 1,300 residential units, most of them in Oakland. However, the developer doesn’t see it as a diversion from their core business.
“Just like with the housing crisis, many creative Oaklanders have been forced out of their studios and maker spaces,” Taplin said. “Our workforce housing developments aim to provide a quality option within an affordable price range, and we take the same approach here at Artthaus.”
As for the link with the Ghost Ship warehouse, Artthaus features an installation that pays homage to the tragic story. Several artists who collaborated on the exterior of the building used the cannery’s original fire doors as a canvas for their art. Taplin said these fire doors are “a reminder that art, design and function all intersect on every project in the built environment.”