KQED Article Questions Selection of Orton Development for Emeryville Art Center Development

3 mins read

KQED Arts reporter Sam Lefebvre penned a recent story covering Emeryville’s selection of Orton Development Inc. as the private partner for the long anticipated Emeryville Arts Center. The selection of Orton was not without some dissent Lefebvre writes.

Plans for an Emeryville Art Center go back over a decade and were within our grasp until a state budget crisis in 2010. Then governor Jerry Brown made the decision to kill Redevelopment Agencies putting funding for this project and others in limbo. Then City Manager Patrick O’Keefe retired shortly after citing the loss of Redevelopment as a funding tool as a primary reason for his decision.

A 2011 Jensen Architects rendering of the plans  for the former United Stamping Company building on the corner of Hollis and 40th adjacent to City Hall.

The city recouped about $25 million from the state in 2015 including $11 million for this project and $13 million for the South Bayfront Bridge. $1.4 million of the center’s budget would come from private contributions including Pixar and PG&E.

The City issued an RFP/Q for the project about a year ago. Orton Development Inc. (ODI) was among three proposals for the project selected from a pool of nine submissions to move forward in the Phase II process along with Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) and MSL & Company.

MSL & Company’s vision for the space included the architectural distinction of a sawtooth roof.

A staff and community panel was assembled to assess and score the proposals back in July. The primary objectives for the score included:

  • Minimize City subsidy while ensuring fiscal sustainability of operations
  • Maximize civic and community arts-based uses of the facility
  • Expedite completion of the project
  • Utilize robust community engagement in developing programming for the facility
A matrix showed the comprehensive scores for ODI, CAST & MSL’s proposals.

Emeryville-based ODI is considered well-qualified for the project having redeveloped Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion and selected to do the same for Oakland’s Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Lefebvre points out the Kaiser project has languished for years but is apparently slated to begin construction this year. ODI was also the only other developer to be considered for the renovation of Mountain View’s Moffett field which was ultimately awarded to Google.

CAST’s resume includes mostly San Francisco projects including community art-spaces like Counterpulse and Luggage Store Gallery.

MSL’s portfolio skews toward residential and supportive housing projects although they did submit a plan for the reuse of the Novato Train Depot.

CAST’s affordable housing component added complexities to the project.

ODI & CAST’s scores were nearly identical but the staff recommendation went to ODI based on expediency. “It appears that the more discreet scope proposed by ODI reflects the latter consideration,” the staff report noted. ODI’s plan emphasized that it did not include the need for additional subsidies or private fundraising.

CAST’s proposal meanwhile included 22 affordable “family-friendly” housing units designated for artists. The inclusion of artist housing, especially in light of the passing of our city’s Measure C $50 million housing bond, seemed to strengthen their proposal by providing a long-term vision to preserve the artist community in our city.

The staff report and the three proposals were then presented to council last September. The council presentation of this agenda item can be viewed below beginning at [30:54].

Public Comment, as well as letters written to the city, were heavily skewed toward recommending CAST’s proposal including longtime Emeryville residents Archana Horsting and her husband Greg Harper. “We need that housing and this is the perfect place for it. We really shouldn’t pass up this opportunity,” Harper noted.

Council collectively expressed reluctance to add the additional complexity of affordable housing and endanger the project once again. “When you tell me that Turner [Construction] is going to get things done in a certain amount of time, it gives me pause,” noted Vice Mayor Christian Patz referencing his experience with the ECCL project. “Not their biggest fan.”



Councilmember Dianne Martinez expressed concern over the impact that a predicted economic downturn could have on the timing of the project and emphasized the ‘simplicity’ of ODI’s proposal. “We have a choice between ‘a bird in the hand’ with ODI versus ‘two in the bush’ with CAST’s,” she explained.

After council questions to the applicants and subsequent discussion, the council voted 4-1 in favor of adopting ODI’s proposal.

The dissenting vote came from Councilmember Scott Donahue who himself lives in a form of affordable artist housing, the 45th Street Artists’ Cooperative. “By having artist live-work housing as a component, I saw a unique regional destination,” Donahue later noted in the KQED piece.

We have compiled all three presentations into one SlideShare deck for you to view.

ODI will now enter into an exclusive agreement to be the private partner for the project and will be authorized by the City Manager to negotiate an Exclusive Right to Negotiate Agreement.

The city is optimistic the center could be up and running in time for the 2020 Celebration of the Arts.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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