City Lands Phoenix Award for New Development
Public-private partnership lauded
The city has received a prestigious award for its successful collaboration with a private developer on a brownfield redevelopment project — namely, Alameda Landing, the new retail and residential near the Webster and Posey tubes.
“The Landing is a complex project that lends itself to a public-private partnership,” said Debbie Potter, the city’s community development director. Potter accepted the Phoenix Award on behalf of the city at the “Brownfields 2015” conference in Chicago. The award dovetailed with the conference theme of transforming blighted areas into productive sustainable development projects.
“Public-private partnership is pretty much the model at all former military bases. But it’s not a business model that every developer embraces,” said Potter. “Business is conducted in public.”
More business will be conducted in public early next year when Catellus is expected to approach the city council with revised plans for the last and final phase, which will include downsizing the previously approved office space and adding housing.
One project is selected from each of the 10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regions. Alameda Landing took home the award for Region 9, which covers California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Pacific Islands.
The city inherited a potentially valuable land asset from the Navy in 2000 — a housing area that was to become Bayport, and the abandoned U.S. Navy’s. Alameda Fleet Industrial Supply Center that was to become Alameda Landing. Soon thereafter, the city selected Catellus as the developer.
Since then, challenges have been a frequent companion. The city and Catellus “had to work through infrastructure challenges, regulatory challenges, and financing challenges,” said Potter. “Virtually every aspect has required special attention, from soil conditions to retail makeup to the strength of the pier structure along the waterfront.”
As Bayport construction was underway, it became apparent that the initial proposed plan for 1.3 million square feet of research and development office space at the Landing was not viable. The time to adapt or die arrived early. “Being nimble throughout the process is key,” said Potter. “Without flexibility, you end up with no project.”
By early 2007, the city had decided to give Catellus wide latitude on what it was allowed by right to construct at Alameda Landing. Any configuration is allowed as long as the impacts, namely traffic, do not exceed the impacts identified in the environmental impact report.
The most significant changes were the slashing of office space to 400,000 square feet and the addition of up to 300 residential units at Alameda Landing.
In 2009, while the city and Catellus were waiting for the economy to rebound from the last recession, a suspicious fire destroyed the abandoned supply center, which the city still owned at the time. Lead and asbestos were incinerated in the fire. The added demolition and special cleanup costs amounted to several million dollars. The city will finally recoup all of its cleanup costs with a final payment from Catellus during the waterfront phase, according to Potter.
Most of the Landing retail space is now filled, and the 284 residential units are nearing completion. “Tri Pointe is the first private multifamily housing constructed in Alameda since the charter amendment known as Measure A was enacted in 1973,” said Potter. “The Tri Pointe residential project was approved under provisions of the city’s Density Bonus Ordinance.”
Construction is about to begin on Stargell Commons, a single structure of 32 rental units for low- and very-low-income households. Catellus is bringing the infrastructure to the site and contributing $2 million for this project. The final phase of the Landing — in the warehouse area between Mitchell Avenue and the Oakland Estuary that was originally slated for office space, a Miracle League baseball park, and a waterfront park and promenade — begins next year.
But first, the City Council will be asked to approve a major revision that will include the addition of housing and the subtraction of office space due to weak demand. The Miracle League baseball park has been scratched because it’s now slated to become part of Estuary Park nearby, which Catellus contributed toward.
The authority for adding housing to the last phase of the Landing project originated in 2012, when the former City Council updated the General Plan Housing Element, creating a multifamily overlay zoning designation. These special overlay zones, or sites, provide the rights for multifamily housing on specific sites. It designated 10 acres at 30 units per acre on the land north of Mitchell Avenue.
“It gives Catellus zoning rights to residential if they want to pursue residential,” said Potter. “No amendment to the development agreement or master plan is needed, but keep in mind that the zoning designation — multifamily overlay — is constrained by the requirement that any revised uses must fit within the environmental impact report and not generate additional impacts.”
The city currently owns the warehouse area north of Mitchell and collects about $800,000 a year in rent from two tenants. The land will be sold to Catellus upon approval of the revised plan.
The Phoenix Awards Institute, Inc., a nonprofit, administers the awards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International City/County Management Association organized the national conference in Chicago.