Housing and Retail Transform a Corner

Oakland's lone construction crane signals a major change for an ugly and long underutilized corner connecting major thoroughfares.


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Oakland's lone construction crane stands at 51st and Broadway where Merrill Garden at Rockridge, an assisted and independent living facility, is going up.

Photo by Ramona d'Viola

At the intersection of Broadway and 51st Street, a concentration of construction projects is on the verge of transforming the commercial activity of three Oakland neighborhoods.

 Three major projects are simultaneously moving forward, all within a stone's throw of one another: two housing developments and a massive redevelopment involving Safeway and the new "Shops at the Ridge" shopping center. Even in a city buzzing with construction projects, this knot of developments is considered unusual and stands to transform a thoroughfare linking Piedmont Avenue, Rockridge, and the Broadway corridor. "In terms of construction activity in one location, that's a particularly active cluster," said Oakland city planner Darin Ranelletti. "That one is special in that there is a lot of activity."

The company SMR Development LLC is behind two of the projects. One is Merrill Gardens at Rockridge, an assisted and independent living home for senior citizens. The five-story project will yield 127 units as well as 7,700 square feet of commercial space and has attracted attention for the towering construction crane, the only one dotting Oakland's current development frontier. The other project is a multiuse, multistory development known as Temescal Apartments. This project will contain 130 residential units, 171 parking stalls, and 8,642 square feet of retail space, for a total of 210,393 square feet. It will have a five-story section, a four-story section, and a two-story section.

 Merrill Gardens is scheduled for completion in late 2016, and Temescal Apartments should be ready in the spring of 2017. Together they are expected to cost approximately $90 million.

The third project, and arguably the most significant, is the redevelopment of the Rockridge Shopping Center at Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue. The first phase, which is completed, involved demolishing 185,000 square feet of existing buildings, including a CVS and several small businesses. As part of the second phase, the current Safeway at this location will be replaced by a superstore, which will be accompanied by restaurants, offices, and retail outlets.

This new site will total roughly 330,942 square feet and will include approximately 967 off-street parking spots. It will feature a parking garage, restaurants, and buildings with heights of up to 80 feet with buildings between two and four-stories. The Safeway redevelopment will be the neighborhood's most significant development for the next several decades. Consequently, it has been at the center of community discussions since it was first proposed in 2007.

Stuart Flashman, a member of the Rockridge Community Planning Council, a Rockridge-focused nonprofit planning organization, said that on the whole, he's pleased with the plans for the new shopping center. "The new owners are very interested in having a balance of national stores and local stores," Flashman said. "The fact that they're trying to keep a balance is good for Oakland and good for Rockridge." Flashman said his main concern is that the developments will increase traffic flow in the area. He noted that the Rockridge Community Planning Council has talked with the owners of the shopping center about installing more bike and pedestrian paths around the development. Flashman said his organization tried to convince AC Transit to install more bus stops at the shopping center, but so far this proposal has failed to gain much traction.

"Frankly, the Broadway-Pleasant Valley intersection, which is often fairly congested, is going to get worse," Flashman said. "It would be nice if we could get people to not use their cars as much, but that's hard to implement."

Traffic fears aside, Oakland policymakers are excited by the prospect of attracting retail dollars with the new development. According to JRDV Architects, which has designed the project, Oakland has lost $1.4 billion to "retail leakage." Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, whose district encompasses this section of Broadway, said that the Safeway upgrade is a long overdue solution to this problem. "People all too often shop and buy stuff in Emeryville or Walnut Creek because they think Oakland doesn't have the stores they want to go to," Kalb said. "These are Oakland residents who are taking their tax dollars and giving them to other communities."

The new Safeway and the redeveloped Rockridge Shopping Center could cut the flow of Oakland dollars to different cities. It would also help fulfill Jerry Brown's 10-K program, which he developed to encourage greater commercial density along Oakland's major thoroughfares.

Over the past few years, Broadway's three-mile stretch has steadily filled with high-profile tenets. Foremost among them is Kaiser's new billion-dollar hospital on MacArthur, as well as the old Sear's building, which Uber recently purchased to transform into its Oakland headquarters. The creation of a new shopping center may give Broadway the commercial weight to rival neighboring Piedmont and Telegraph avenues.

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