ALAMEDA -- The city's landmark Del Monte building on Buena Vista Avenue could be transformed into a mix of about 300 lofts, flats and townhouses and about 10,000 square feet of commercial space under a proposal that city officials are now considering.
While the design from developer Tim Lewis Communities calls for maintaining the red brick exterior of the approximately 240,000-square-foot warehouse, the inside would be opened up so that two four-story structures could be built behind the walls. A new paseo would also be cut through the building's center to allow public access to the Oakland-Alameda Estuary and to the proposed shops and restaurants.
"It can be difficult when you are working with a historic building," said Jim Meek of the developer's Bay Area project team. "But I think what we have planned will help bring the old lady back to life."
Built in 1927 for the California Packing Corp., the warehouse stretches 1,000 feet long and was used by the company after it became Del Monte through the 1960s. Efforts to transform the property, which the Roseville-based developer bought last year after previous owner Peter Wang declared bankruptcy, have been under way for more than a decade. The warehouse is one of 30 designated landmarks in the city.
"In my opinion, this is one of the most special," City Planner Andrew Thomas said. "It is certainly one of the more unusual buildings on our monument list. It's probably, of all our monuments, the one that we are most concerned about as well."
Among previous redevelopment proposals was one that called for demolishing the warehouse and using its bricks for a new building, Thomas said. The current design proposal from San Francisco's BAR Architects suggests turning the site's former loading docks into patios and having shops and restaurants face the Estuary's Alaska Basin.
"This structure is so large that working with it as housing is almost like making a little microcosm of a city," the firm's Paula Krugmeier told the Planning Board on March 10.
A storage and labeling shed from the 1950s at the building's northwest corner would be demolished under the plan and about 300 parking spaces would be built beneath the proposed homes and shops.
"We don't want to surround the building with a sea of parking," Krugmeier said. "We would rather carefully hide it inside."
A business currently rents a portion of the warehouse as a distribution facility. Along with apartments and townhouses inside the historic building, about an additional 100 housing units and another 15,000 square feet of retail could be built in other areas of the 11.5-acre site, which is bordered by Sherman and Clement streets.
At least 15 percent of any homes built would be designated as affordable for people with low or moderate income, Thomas said.
"After seeing this building dormant for so long, it's very exciting to see a good solid team with a realistic, exciting and dynamic plan," the Planning Board's David Burton said.
The board will review the project again later this month and in May. The goal is to have it before the City Council for final approval in June, Thomas said. Tim Lewis Communities is also behind Neptune Pointe, the proposal to build single-family homes on former federal property near the Crab Cove Visitor Center at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach.
The East Bay Regional Park District is suing the city over the decision to rezone the neighborhood for housing, and a citizen's group is campaigning to place a measure on the November ballot that would designate the area as open space so that the park could expand.
The upturn in the economy and a growing market for multifamily homes led Tim Lewis Communities to take on the Del Monte warehouse, Meek said.
But Mike O'Hara, the site's project manager, said the company is also aware of the building's unique place in Alameda history.
"We view this as a community asset," O'Hara said. "It's a precious landmark to the city, and we see ourselves as the stewards of that asset."
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.