ULI San Francisco Blog

Reviving the Golden Age of Retail in the East Bay

“After 12 years with the City of Oakland, the last two years have been the most exciting,” commented Keira Williams, Oakland’s Retail Specialist, at a ULI panel discussion on the East Bay’s next retail hot spot: the Golden Triangle, referring to the Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville trifecta. The panel of highly accomplished retail professionals agreed, including John Jay, Executive Vice President and COO of the Jay-Phares Corporation; Pamela White, Vice President of Development for Madison Marquette; Michael Caplan, Economic Development Manager for the City of Berkeley; and moderator Ed Del Beccaro, Managing Director for Transwestern and Executive Committee member for the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

The East Bay retail scene has long been considered underdeveloped, yet times are changing for the Golden Triangle and the greater East Bay. Earlier in 2014, John Jay completed Foothill Square, a community shopping center in the southeastern part of Oakland, anchored by a Foods Co. grocery store, Ross Dress for Less, and Anna’s Linens. Pamela White discussed the cooperation between Madison Marquette and the City of San Leandro to change the image of the Bayfair Center shopping mall and keep it’s retail offerings relevant to the community, and Michael Caplan highlighted the City of Berkeley’s deal with Sports Basement to take over the historic Berkeley Iceland skating rink. Moreover, within the City of Oakland, Keira Williams accounted for over 90 net new eating and drinking establishments in 2012, over 70 new restaurants, bars, and stores in the downtown alone in 2011-2013, and more than 20 additional establishments under construction.

There is no doubt that San Francisco’s economic boom is overflowing, however, successful retail development in the East Bay continues to be nuanced. Not even the Golden Triangle is immune to the rising cost of construction and the need for national retailers as anchor tenants to secure project funding. In Berkeley, on the other hand, the retail development community has a subjective preference for some retail over others, as Michael Caplan illustrated with an endemic colloquialism that says in Berkeley, “there are chains, and there are chains.”

The panelists also touched on retail leakage, retail deserts, pre-prescribed planning and the over-specificity of planning documents, and crime. Responding to an audience question on Oakland’s crime problem, John Jay discussed his ownership of a private security company that monitors Foothill Square, citing the greater likelihood of getting held up at gun-point in the affluent Montclair neighborhood over Foothill Square.

Retail development is certainly looking up in the Golden Triangle and throughout the East Bay. Developers look forward to a reincarnation of redevelopment, most likely in a different form from the redevelopment agencies of the past, such as a formal law or state program to incentivize retail development in the urban core. As the urban lifestyle becomes increasingly popular, will the retail development community be able to revive the golden age in the East Bay?

Authored by: Lisa Katz, Cardno, Engineering and Environmental Services, Americas Region

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