Oakland, Calif., Waterfront to Get Big Retail Market

Oakland moved a step closer to realizing a major public retail market Monday when city officials, developers and others gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the 170,000-square-foot building at Jack London Square.

The centerpiece of the 1 million-square-foot Jack London Square redevelopment will be a place of local produce, artisanal foods, fishmongers and bakers and more - perhaps as many as 70 vendors in all.

The concept is more than a pretty artist's rendering that the developer of the Jack London Square redevelopment, Ellis Partners LLC, first made in 2003 or 2004. (The dates start to run together in the minds of people engaged in a seven-year planning and permit process.) Ellis Partners wants the public market to be the largest of its kind on the West Coast.

Yes, it will be nod to the Bay Area's sustainable food movement and cuisine culture, but the idea to create a sense of commerce and place, as well.

"A lot of things in the real estate and development world appear to be fads," said Hal Ellis, the managing principal of Ellis Partners. "Some of them are. This is not. This is a well-established trend that we think has a lot of legs. And this is an opportunity for a center of that activity to have a place of expression. Oakland and the East Bay is known throughout the country for its culinary arts and its emphasis on sustainable agriculture, and this capitalizes on that."

Guideposts for the developers are the Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Granville market in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We're not competitive with the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. We view ourselves as being additive to it," said James Falaschi, the president of Transbay Holdings Co., a partner in the project with Ellis Partners.

The groundbreaking was only ceremonial because the land is already being prepared for the building that will house the market between Harrison and Webster at Water Street in Jack London Square.

The building will be six stories, with the market, local produce, artisanal foods with meat and fish halls on the first floor. It will house ethnic bistros and fine dining on the second floor; culinary businesses on the third floor; and class A office space above.

The developers expect the Jack London Market to be open for business in early 2009.

It is included in the first phase of construction that will include four mixed-use buildings totaling 250,000 square feet. The others are a 31,200-square-foot retail and office building adjacent to Oakland's ferry terminus, a 1,086-car parking garage and a 10,000-square-foot retail shops building adjacent to the Barnes & Noble store.

Future phases of construction total another 500,000 square feet and include two additional midsize office and retail buildings. The project also includes a joint venture with Joie de Vivre Hospitality to purchase, remodel and operate the Waterfront Plaza Hotel on the square.

In addition, the developers are in talks with the Westin Hotels and Resorts about a new 250-room hotel with conference facilities on the eastern edge of the 11-block-long project, although there is no commitment for it.

In all, the Jack London Square project is a $400 million endeavor, a legacy development for Ellis Partners which, as a string of elected officials noted, are risk-takers who are betting on Oakland and the East Bay.

In the past five years, there has been a significant amount of capital investment in downtown Oakland, including condominiums and other residential projects, said Jim Ellis of Ellis Partners.

But the amount of retail square footage per capita in Oakland and the inner East Bay is extremely low compared with other major metropolitan areas, said Ellis.

"For people living in Oakland and surrounding communities, they have limited options for dining, shopping and recreating," Ellis said.

"They venture through the tunnel to Walnut Creek or into San Francisco, and we think we have an excellent opportunity to create a new urban infill project that will give people an option of staying in town - including coming to a major waterfront world-class public market."

Jim Ellis' father, Hal Ellis, was a co-founder of one of the nation's largest diversified real estate firms, Grubb & Ellis Co. He served as its chairman and chief executive until 1992. His projects have included Oakland's City Center at 14th and Broadway and Emery Tech on Hollis Street in Emeryville.

Other projects include office buildings in San Francisco, Hacienda Plaza in Pleasanton and Town & Country Village in Palo Alto.

Falaschi, the co-developer, was a partner in a family-owned company that built multiple locations for Safeway Stores, Prudential Life Insurance and Pacific Telephone, among other clients, throughout Northern California.

A national pension fund, the National Electrical Benefit Fund, is participating in the financing, with Ellis Partners, Falaschi and a CarVal Investors' managed account.

The National Electrical Benefit Fund was created by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. The developers secured debt financing from Bank of America to round out the project financing.


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