If you live or work anywhere near City Center in downtown Oakland, you’re no doubt familiar with the City Walk project, which has been sitting half-built right behind the Federal Building for what seems like forever. Olson stopped construction on the building back in July 2007.
This site has been a problem long before Olson got their hands on it, although none of the other obstacles were quite so ugly. Back in 2000, the City certified an EIR for planned projects on four lots in the City Center area to be built by Shorenstein – it included 555 12th Street (sometimes affectionately called the “Ask” building), 601 12th Street (the now-stalled project on the empty lot right behind 555), and the lot between 555 and 111 Broadway (sometimes known as the APL Building). And also, the lot right behind the Federal Building, charmingly referred to as T-10.
The plan originally was for Shorenstein to stick a mixed use tower on the site with 550,000 sf of office space and 200 residential units. Shorenstein later decided they didn’t want it, and the City was stuck with trying to figure out what to do with the site next. So they put it out for bids, and a Houston-based company named Camden Property Trust won out with a promise to pay us $7 million for the right to build a 36 story, 480 unit high rise apartment building. This was back in October 2002.
The Camden jerked us around for a while, eventually bringing plans to design review for a 220-unit, 8 story building, and demanding that the City guarantee them a five percent return on investment for five years. We said no thank you, Camden went home, and we were once again stuck with a big lot and nothing to do with it.
Enter Olson. The Olson Company bought the land from the City in September 2004 for $8.7 million, and agreed to build 252 market-rate condominiums and 3,000 sf of retail space to be completed by the end of 2007 (construction started in March 2005). Obviously, that didn’t happen. Towards the end of 2007, Olson’s DDA was expiring, so the Council voted to extend it with a new completion deadline of June 30, 2009 . Olson never managed to meet the requirements set forth in the revised DDA, placing them in default with the City, and although there has been the occasional report of construction starting again, Olson just never managed to get it together, and tonight, the Council will again amend Olson’s DDA.
At this point, Olson’s giving up. What we’re doing now is amending the DDA (PDF) so that they won’t be in default anymore which will allow them to sell the property to somebody else, ideally a rental housing developer. The newly revised schedule will require Olson, or whoever buys the project from them, to begin construction by the end of May and finish the entire project by December 31, 2010. Of course, given the history of the project, these dates are essentially meaningless. There is no reason, at this point, to expect that Olson will conform to their schedule when they’ve already failed to do so twice.
So now we just sit and wait and cross our fingers and hope that Olson can find a reputable rental housing developer to buy the project and complete it. Anyone want to place bets on how long we’re going to have to keep looking at this blight?