But it would not be the tallest building in California.
Building may take city to new heights
63-story high-rise would be state's tallest structure; planner says it would anchor downtown
By Cecily Burt, STAFF WRITER - OAKLAND TRIBUNE
OAKLAND — Aside from a few iconic towers in San Francisco, California's skyline does not have much in the way of very tall buildings.
That could change -- and so would Oakland's image as open for business -- if a developer holds fast to his dream of building a 63-story office skyscraper at the corner of 19th and Broadway.
It would be the tallest building in California.
The proposal by developer Peter Wang of Encinal Terminals got a warm reception Wednesday from Oakland's Planning Commission, which has seen a glut of residential plans but very little in the way of new office development in recent years.
The last office construction in downtown Oakland — the 20-story Shorenstein building at 555 City Center — was completed four years ago and struggled at first to fill up after its anchor tenant, the Internet site Ask.com, pulled out. A 10-story office building at 21st and Franklin streets broke ground late last year.
Wang's plans are in the infant stages at this point, and city staff was gathering feedback from the commissioners on data that should be included in a draft environmental impact report for the project.
The commissioners wanted to make sure city staff studied the project's cumulative effects on nearby buildings and parks and other as-yet unbuilt but approved projects nearby, including a loft development at 20th and Franklin streets and a 24-story high-rise proposed for 17th and Broadway.
Commission Chair Colland Jang worried that so many floors of parking would create "a soulless building."
But some left no doubt they were impressed by Wang's confidence in Oakland's future as a business center.
"I'm impressed by the boldness of this, that someone would come in and make a statement like this," Commissioner Mark McClure said.
"I find this exciting because the developer is proposing 1 million square feet of new office space," said Commissioner Ann Mudge. "This would really anchor downtown as a significant (place for business). It's an exciting move for downtown Oakland."
Wang has completed two other projects in Oakland, the low-rise Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory computer center at Thomas L. Berkley Way (20th Street) and Franklin Street, and an office building at 1111 Jackson St. Construction on the second phase of the Jackson Street complex will begin this year.
But this is the first high-rise. And what a high-rise. If it is built, it would be the tallest building in California, and maybe even on the West Coast. At 28 stories, the tallest building in Oakland is the Kaiser Center at 300 Lakeside Drive. The Ordway Building nearby is 27 stories and the 1111 Broadway building is 24 stories.
"In this project we'll take another step, one that will take 10 years to complete," Wang told the commission Wednesday night. "I have a dream, a vision to do something different. We are moving full-steam ahead."
The draft environmental report will be finished by mid-July and returned to the commission for review in the fall.
The 63-story project would include 40,000 square feet of retail and lobby space, 11 floors (1,007 stalls) of parking, and 1.09 million square feet of office space on 48 floors, a 150-room hotel and an underground connection to the 19th Street BART Station.
It would require the demolition of several small buildings that house businesses on Broadway, the Kaiser Permanente parking garage and surface lot, and the historic Tapscott Building at 19th and Broadway, which is owned by Kaiser.
Three alternative proposals would retain the parking lot and Tapscott Building and consequently lower the new building to 44 or 45 stories. The alternatives would offer less retail space and vary the amount of office space from 165,000 square feet to 351,000 square feet.
Each of the three options would include 10 floors of parking, but one would have 160 residential units and no hotel, another would have 252 residential units and no hotel. The third option would have a 250-room hotel and no residences.
The question is whether anyone will want it when it is done. The demand for office, retail or residential development is cyclical, experts say. And for the past five years Oakland has been, depending on who you ask, blessed or besieged with new market-rate condominium and loft development while office projects have languished.
That is due in part to the high vacancy rates after the dotcom bust, and because unlike the high sales prices of lofts, the cost of constructing office space cannot be made up in rents at their current levels, said Eli Ceryak, a commercial real estate broker with NAI/BT Commercial Real Estate in Oakland.
The vacancy rate for Class A in the same area is 7.9 percent, with anything under 8 percent considered healthy, said Konrad Knutsen, East Bay research director for NAI/BT Commercial Real Estate.
Class A office space in the Lake Merritt sub-area, which includes the Wang block, is going on average for about $2.75 a square foot, Ceryak said.
"In the residential world, the rents and condo prices have supported development, but I definitely think (new office development) is exciting and interesting," he said. "Right now today, I don't think a brand new building (would be fully leased). They would get some leases, but they would struggle. But people are looking at the trends (where the prices are going up), and these projects take a long time.
"If it happens ... it's good for the real estate community and good for Oakland as well," he added.
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