Another chapter in the saga of the Kaiser Convention Center

And just like in the last one, nothing happens.

So. The Kaiser Center is a rather lovely historic building across the street from Lake Merritt that the City owns, and that’s been sitting empty for the past four years, since the City closed it after losing several hundred thousand dollars a year on it while trying to operate it as a concert venue. A 2006 bond measure would have turned the building into a desperately needed new Main Library, but alas, it fell 2,755 votes short of the two-thirds threshold needed for passage. And then the building was just back to sitting there, empty, with nothing going on.

Then, a year ago (PDF), after receiving an unsolicited offer, the City Council directed staff to start negotiating with Live Nation to reopen and operate the building as a concert venue. Then negotiations went on and on and basically, as of February, nothing had happened. At the Community and Economic Development Committee meeting when we learned this, we also learned that it wasn’t only Live Nation interested, and that the Peralta Colleges and the Symphony also wanted to use the Kaiser Center for performances and the Committee told staff to keep talking to Live Nation and also talk to the other groups and work something out with everyone.

And so now we’re back and well, still nothing has happened. Well, I guess one big thing happened – we figured out that fixing the building so it’s useable is going to cost even more than we had previously expected. At February’s meeting, the estimated cost of repairing the facility to make it useable was $3.7 million (PDF). but now we’ve actually sat down and priced everything out, and realized that to re-open and keep the facility operating long-term, the total cost of repairs and renovations will actually be $5.5 million (PDF). So that’s exciting.

Other than that, basically, staff has continued to negotiate with Live Nation about operating the arena, and then with the Peralta Community College District about operating the Calvin Simmons Theater “on behalf of the Alliance for the Performing Arts,” which is a group of cultural arts organizations including the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Ballet. Apparently, all the groups are willing to contribute some money towards repair, but they can’t afford the full cost, and of course, the City doesn’t have any money to fix it up either.

District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, who has clearly just had enough, was basically like, “Just do something, anything!”

District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan asked if anyone from either Live Nation or Peralta was in the room to answer questions, which, of course they weren’t, although apparently the talks between the two groups have thus far revealed that it appears there will be some way of structuring the shows so that Live Nation and the cultural arts groups using the Calvin Simmons Theater will be able to coexist. Details still to be worked out, of course.

Then, Kernighan was like, “So, has the Peralta Community College District Board approved taking on the responsibility of operating this theater?” And naturally, it turns out they haven’t. And Kernighan was like, “Yeah, you should probably deal with that.”

And then CEDA Director Walter Cohen was all, “This is too complicated, and we should just negotiate an agreement with Live Nation.” And De La Fuente was like, “Just figure it out yourself and do something and bring it back before recess, whether it’s Live Nation or anybody else, I don’t care.” And District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner was like, “We should get stimulus money to fix the building.” And City Administrator Dan Lindheim was all “There is no stimulus money available for that.” And then they all agreed that staff should just bring them back “either an agreement or a proposal from Live Nation or another capable financial entity” by July, that was pretty much it.

So, to sum up: We are no closer to paying for the repairs needed to re-open the Kaiser Convention Center than we were when we last checked in. In fact, we are perhaps further from paying for them, since the anticipated cost is higher now. After directing staff in February to include the Peralta Colleges and the Symphony in their negotiations along with Live Nation, the Committee has now decided that doing so is just too complicated, and is now directing staff to go back to negotiating with Live Nation, and basically make Peralta and the Symphony Live Nation’s problem, assuming an agreement can actually be reached. We’ll get another update on progress in July. I’m on the edge of my seat.

10 thoughts on “Another chapter in the saga of the Kaiser Convention Center

  1. Almer Mabalot

    I remember going to an event that took place at this building, but that was when I was a 2nd or 4th grader. It was quite massive if I can remember correctly, and It would really make a great concert place if things go to the positive sides.

  2. Ralph

    i think the army has a word for this. seriously though for a city like Oakland, it is a shame that we do not have a well defined arts district with a performance houses.

  3. PRE

    Ok, this isn’t the right thread to ask this question but I figured someone on here might know – I just heard that the Cerrito Theater closed as well as the Parkway. Does ANYONE have any idea what’s going on, and if there’s a chance that either/both might reopen? I’m desperate so any information would be great.

    Regarding this story – why in the world would the Symphony and Ballet be interested at all in leaving the Paramount? There’s finally some places to eat before a show, and a sense of life on the streets that would be impossible at the Convention Center. Personally, I would be much less inclined to go to the Symphony there than downtown. The library made so much more sense and I wish those 2755 people had been able to see the bigger picture.

    Sorry, just read the comment above – that well defined arts district with (two) performance houses is at 20th and Broadway!

  4. Ralph

    PRE, Below is the official word on Cerrito:

    Speakeasy Theaters is signing off.

    Thank you for 14 amazing years. What a long, strange trip it’s been. We are proud of what we’ve built and are looking forward to whatever is next. We’ve built community, lovingly restored two beautiful theaters, met some wild and wonderful people and learned a lot along the way.

    Our public demise has been glowingly at hand and we are here to bear witness, rejoice and mourn. It has been a fitful, exciting, exhausting and eventually frustrating tenure but it was a true representation of us. Catherine and I had a blast in the process and through the guidance of our genius shrink, learned much about our real selves.

    Catherine and I are mulling over our next adventure. We need to walk the beach, clear our minds and let the universe speak to us. That’s how we found Speakeasy Theaters, our publishing company before that and the neighborhood pub. The beach heals what ails. Thanks to all of you who have enjoyed what we have offered, who have shared in our vision and who love the idea of building and sharing community.

    It is awesome and often extremely embarrassing to have your life play out in such a public manner. But you learn that you must strive to be bold in attempting to be true to your realest self. For better or for worse this has been an expression of our essence and people will judge us as they choose. Hey – whatever. We are at the same time amazing and flawed. Life is a great teacher. Rejoice.

    Kyle and Catherine
    When I say a well defined arts district – I mean I want a permanent theatre company like DTC. I want more than 2 venues. I would like to see Shattuck Ave on Broadway. There should also be an oppty to bring a house that presents avant-garde work. The Uptown can be more than what it is was my point.

  5. dbackman

    Apparently there are investors interested in reopening the Parkway. Just got an email about it the other day. There is a general community meeting at Rooz this Sunday, May 31st @ 3PM. Sounds like things are moving along in a positive direction.

    I have to agree that the Main Library is a much better program for the Kaiser than an event and performance space. With neighbors live Laney College, OUSD and the Oakland Museum, 10th Street has the potential to become a major civic/educational axis for the city. Large Live Nation style events would bring huge surges of concert-goers into the area, but despite the high accessibility of this location, there isn’t a lot to support these sort of crowds. There are no bars or restaurants like in Uptown. It might be convenient, but its probably not appealing to the Symphony crowd.

    I live just off 10th a few blocks east of the Kaiser and would love to see foot traffic pick up and the area become more lively. But I don’t see it becoming any sort of nightlife destination for Oakland anytime soon, especially when Uptown is thriving just a mile or so away. At night this whole stretch is nearly desolate after working hours. Either way, I am really excited about something/anything happening with this building. But I would rather see it get daily use and be open to the general public.

  6. Naomi Schiff

    Some history on the 1912 Beaux Arts Henry J. Kaiser Aud, with its relief niches sculpted by Alexander Calder’s father: It has been a huge rock concert venue in the past. Google “grateful dead” and you will see what I mean. It consists of two venues: a large stadium-style space (where UC women’s basketball games were held during reconstruction at Haas Pavilion) and a traditionally laid-out theater with excellent acoustics. Acoustically, it presents some advantages over the Paramount, and the smaller number of seats can be an advantage. It’s hard to fill the Paramount. The Paramount also has a somewhat shallow and trapezoidally-shaped stage, which I have heard makes some difficulties in staging dance. Laney has a very active dance program. This is not to say we should abandon the Paramount, but rather that we should really explore the potential of the Kaiser Aud. (I personally think it should be renamed back to the original “Oakland Auditorium” because way too many people are confused about the other Kaiser stuff at the other end of the lake.) As the Measure DD improvements to 12th St. move forward, the auditorium will gain in prominence and become much more accessible.

  7. John Klein

    The plot of land where the Kaiser Center (Oakland Auditorium) sits can be seen clearly in the lower left-hand corner of this post card.

    At the time the City acquired it, it was called “Peralta Park,” a tidal marsh that filled up with a foot or two of water everyday. The City finally acquired the property back in 1907 at a cost of $45,000. It was one parcel among several in a large park bond election. Called the 1907 Park Bond, it passed by 80%-20% margin (the same as Measure DD, btw). The park bond raised nearly a million dollars and purchased 10 areas throughout the city. The park land purchased included what are now Lakeside Park, Bushrod Park, DeFermery Park, and the strip of parkland where the Boat House sits. Back then, the Boat House area was called “the Willows.”

    The borders of Peralta Park were 12th Street, the Estuary Channel, 10th Street, and Fallon Street. Fallon is the little short street at the main steps of the Alameda Court House where the media vehicles park. A lot Fallon Street was taken over by the museum construction.

    Back in 2001, Mayor Jerry Brown proposed leasing the Auditorium parking lot to the Catholic Church. The idea was to place a huge elevated platform over the parking lot and 12th Street and then build fancy cathedral on top of that. It was during this time that the history of Peralta Park became better known – along with the fact that the City of Oakland couldn’t sell or lease the park land without having another election. As we know, the cathedral moved elsewhere.

    In fact, in response to an RFP from the City for the parking lot then, the first conceptual drawings to remove traffic lanes from 12th Street lanes were proposed. The proposal to remove traffic lanes at 12th Street and reclaim park land there led to Measure DD. And, of course, the on-going history of the Lake is being written as we speak…