The Oakland City Council will consider tonight a proposal to turn an empty, prominent plot of land next to the Fox Theater on Telegraph Avenue into temporary surface parking, and some downtown residents are not happy about it.
Forest City intends to build as many as 220 housing units and 20,000 square feet of retail space on the 1-acre parcel as part of the second phase of its large Uptown project. The developer was supposed to pay $6.9 million for the land by July 2008, but because of the housing slump and nationwide financial squeeze, last month the council approved Forest City's request for a 36-month extension to buy the land, backdated to July.
In exchange, the city asked Forest City to build a surface lot to help ease a parking shortage when the Fox and Paramount theaters host events, especially on the same nights, said Jens Hillmer, the city's urban economic coordinator.
The lots cleared for the Forest City development used to provide 1,200 parking spaces. The proposed surface parking lot would return about 110 spaces to the neighborhood, Hillmer said. He acknowledged that would not do much to really ease the demand on concert nights, and said the city is exploring other long-term options for additional parking in the area. The council has also ordered that the city-owned parking garage at 19th and Franklin streets remain open at night and its availability promoted by the city and the concert venues.
But some vocal members of the blossoming downtown area say the parking lot is a bad idea and think it deserves a more interesting and productive use, as a sports field or an outdoor exhibit space for large-scale sculpture, a la Burning Man-sized artworks.
They say the parking lot is contrary to the city's goal of promoting pedestrian-friendly streets downtown. They also fear that once the lot is built, it will be hard to get rid of it.
"The people have already figured out how to get to the Fox without parking next door," said Jonathan Bair, head of the Oakland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Bair said there's plenty of parking, but the lack of coordination among various agencies to put up signage to direct people to other lots or public transit options is frustrating.
Hillmer said the sports park and other proposals sound nice, but they are not financially supportable. Forest City agreed to build the lot because it will get its money back through parking revenues.
"(The city) doesn't have the money to build and maintain (a park)," Hillmer said. "It's an unfortunate coincidence of having a negative budget environment in the city of Oakland."
Under the proposed 36-month parking lot lease agreement, Forest City will pay an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 to construct the lot, including landscaping around the perimeter to make it more attractive. The company will operate the lot at its own expense and keep net parking revenues up to $300,000, as well as 10 percent interest on that amount. The city will get extra parking revenues, as well as permit fees and business and parking taxes.
Given that the estimated annual net revenue from the lot is about $150,000, it would be difficult for Forest City to recoup all its development costs before the lease expires in July 2011.
Even if the city approves the plan, construction is still months away. The project needs a conditional-use permit from the Oakland Planning Commission, and the community must be consulted about landscaping and other issues, Hillmer said.