West Oakland as the New Real Estate Frontier

John Protopappas of Madison Park Financial brings the Lampwork Lofts to Campbell Street in West Oakland.


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John Protopappas had his eye on the Campbell Street property in 1986. He rented the first Lampwork Loft space in 2013.

Photos by Ramona d’Viola

Vision and instinct led developer John Protopappas to “go West.” West Oakland, that is.

Close to major freeways, railroad tracks, and heavy industry, West Oakland has a reputation as the hardscrabble part of town. Yet, with East Bay real estate becoming increasingly valuable and scarce, it has also become the new frontier.

In 1986, early in his career, the CEO and president of Madison Park Financial ventured out to West Oakland to look at a property on Campbell Street. The beautiful, red brick industrial facility, built in 1912, served as General Electric’s Mazda light bulb manufacturing plant. The young developer immediately saw the potential for the building and the region and made an offer.

The building’s owner, Stanley Greitzer, wasn’t interested in selling. Yet. The two kept in touch, however, and 18 years later, Greitzer called.

“‘Son, I’m ready to sell,’” Protopappas recalled with a laugh. “I was 28 when I met him.”

The building went into escrow in 2004, but there were some contingencies: Greitzer needed a place to move his sleeping bag insulation company before closing the sale. After finding a suitable facility for Greitzer’s business, the $25 million deal bounced along before regulatory approvals—just in time for the 2008 recession.

With little access to capital, and drastically diminished investor confidence, the project was stalled. There were also significant environmental challenges to overcome. The 1989 earthquake caused severe damage to the building, which needed extensive seismic retrofitting. Protopappas also wanted to designate his newly acquired property as a historic landmark, which required adherence to strict National Park Service guidelines for historic rehabilitations.

“It was a challenging time,” Protopappas said.

After two years of negotiations, an assist from the city of Oakland, and a Herculean effort by his architectural and construction teams—Levy Design Partners and DCI Construction—Protopappas’ vision for his property in West Oakland, the Lampwork Lofts, would soon come to fruition. After 10 years in development, the 92-unit residential, pet-friendly, live/work space rented its first space in 2013.

With its proximity to major transportation hubs and jobs, it was always obvious to Protopappas that West Oakland was the perfect place to develop, especially multifamily buildings.

“A lot of people don’t realize there’s a lot of industrial property in the area that’s been rezoned for mixed use,” Protopappas said. “What’s exciting is how West Oakland is going to grow. We are at the vanguard of developing this underutilized region into a thriving community at an affordable price without displacing existing communities. You can go live in San Francisco and pay $6 a square foot or pay $3 for the same amount of space, if not more, in West Oakland and actually have a life outside of paying rent.”

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