Considering the massive yearly turnover in Emeryville residents (75% every 8 years is what I’ve been told), not too many of us current residents were around for the initial early 90’s battle surrounding the kilometer-long mall that straddles the Southern Emeryville/West Oakland Border. A 1994 Chronicle archive given to me titled “Aesthetic Flap Grips Emeryville” details the battle between residents & developers and the “Suburban Style” strip mall. The 25-acre, seven warehouse retail center was originally designed by Berkley Architecture firm ELS & developed by Catellus Development (A spin-off of Santa Fe railroad that previously occupied the land).
The mall is a “dying breed”. Auto-centric, absent of windows and any natural lighting and a minimal lack of open-space. They do deserve some credit for the inclusion of original public art including the steel-plate sculpture series of West Oakland artist Mark Bulwinkle that give the center some unique character. A very thorough history & assessment of the project from the MIT libraries titled “Evaluating the community Benefits of Brownfields Redevelopment” can be read in this PDF document.
The mall is showing its age and East Bay Bridge Center owners since 2012 Federal Realty Investment Trust (Who also own San Jose’s Santana Row and is headquartered in Rockford, MD), have submitted applications with Planning & Building for a facade improvement that was outlined at last weeks Planning Commission meeting. The initial proposal, created by SF architectural and urban design practice Field Paoli, includes mostly superficial improvements such as LED lights, colored glass, and a repainting of the metal girders from yellow to a neutral grey. According to the project proposal, the proposed façade changes will “bring a cohesive color palate and landscaping changes to the entire building, but will focus on using design, materials, and color to emphasize the individual store identities of the three larger retail tenants.” It should be noted that the Home Depot Section of the center is apparently not owned by Federal and would not be included in this renovation.
Additional improvements would include:
- New Landscaping including addition of 16 trees
- 14 new Bike Racks that would accommodate up to 28 bikes
- Speed tables intended to address concerns over pedestrian safety
- Additional Lighting
Federal staff also announced that Nordstrom Rack has signed a lease to move into the space currently occupied by Pacific Sales, an appliance and furniture store. They will be taking a large portion of the existing space, with a smaller portion carved out for an additional yet-to-be named retailer. Federal spokesman Marty Potts characterized the improvements as “Market Driven” and would give the facility not only a facelift but make the center more “upscale”. A requirement of attracting a tenant like Nordstrom Rack. The addition of a Nordstrom would be a boon to the center … but undoubtedly come at the expense of additional traffic. The clearance arm of the premium retailer are known for offering designer labels at steep discounts and a preferred choice amongst bargain-hunters. The closest existing store being at San Leandro’s Marina Square Center.
The Planning Commission was pretty critical of the design and the incomplete nature of its scope with commissioner Keller summarizing it as “lipstick on a pig”. “It’s disappointing to me. It’s not a drastic improvement over what’s there right now” commented commissioner Sean Moss. All seemed to agree that measures need to be taken to improve the parking lot and calming the traffic that runs through the main artery of the center. The commission expressed a preference for decorative intersection “bulb-outs” over the planned speed tables for accomplishing this. Additional comments including the recommendation of using higher quality materials, addressing the current “deplorable” state of the window sills and use of pigeon control. The commission also expressed disappointment that nothing was to be done with the “food court” area on the west side of the center (currently occupied by a Starbucks & Taco Bell). Providing another food option to shoppers besides Taco Bell may be in the centers best interest.
Ultimately, Federated’s application was slated to be continued to a future meeting where they’ll have an opportunity to incorporate some of their recommendations and represent to the commission. The entire presentation can be viewed online or watched below on the EPOA YouTube channel:
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