Journalism by press release

I’ve noted plenty of times in the past how Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums loves to crow about Oakland news that he had absolutely nothing to do with. So of course it came as no real surprise yesterday when I saw the press release from Dellums’s office “announcing” (which in reality, was more like “reminding people of”) the new Shorenstein Building on the T-12 site downtown. Nevermind that this project has been entitled for ages and that the EIR for the entire Planned Unit Development (PUD) it belongs to was certified in April 2000, and this has been sitting on the Design Review Committee’s agenda in plain sight for anyone who cares – this is apparently big news. But after a few eye rolls, I decided to just forget about it, since, as a friend told me after I forwarded him the press release, “That’s just what mayors do.” And besides, it wasn’t like I wanted the project to be ignored. It is a big deal, and I’m happy they’re going to be breaking ground in the forseeable future, so it certainly deserves media attention.

Here’s a rendering of the building from the attachment to the staff report.

What did surprise me was that no less than six media outlets picked up the story. Check it out in the Oakland Tribune, KTVU, East Bay Business Times, CBS5, ABC7, and the San Francisco Chronicle. (The three TV stations all ran the same story from Bay City News).

How do I know that not a single one of the people who wrote these stories actually bothered to look at the report on the issue? Because every last one of them quotes the wrong figure of 500,000 square feet included in Dellums’s press release, rather than the correct 597,000 square foot figure from the staff report and Design Review Committee agenda! From the Trib:

Developers’ plans to build a 23-story, 500,000-square-foot office tower downtown will be given to city staff Wednesday, as Shorenstein Properties, working with MetLife Real Estate Investments, hopes to capitalize on what it sees as another ripe downtown development opportunity.

Okay, 100,000 sf of office space is a huge deal. Shorenstein’s last City Center building, 555 12th St., features 489,000 sf of office space. The error is embarrassing for Dellums’s office, but even more embarrassing for the newspapers, who are theoretically supposed to providing the public with, you know, facts. When the building fills up, that 100,000 extra square feet will be able to accommodate 400 more jobs!

Even more frustrating, all of the articles completely fail to note any of the interesting things about this building.

For example, the maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowed in this location under the current C-51 zoning designation is 7.0. But the project gets 3 density bonsues – one for being on a corner, one for being across the street from a park, and one for being part of a PUD, making the actual maximum permitted FAR 10.5. The FAR for the building as proposed? You guessed it: 10.5.

What does this mean? Well, basically it means that our office market is so healthy right now that Shorenstein thinks they can fill up a bigger building than the one they planned during the dot com boom, the biggest building that zoning will allow them to build, even though we have one brand new office building about to be completed (sorry, no link. Center 21 doesn’t have a website as far as I know.) and another one one the way. That should be the story here. Instead we just got a bunch of regurgitations of the press release, and nobody even bothered to double check whether or not the information was true. Zut alors!

dto510 blogged about all this on Future Oakland on Monday.

Another, although relatively minor, issue with the reporting on this building in particular, and develoment in general, is the tendency of the media to talk about heights in the relatively worthless terms of “stories”, rather than actual height. This results in misleading representations of exactly how big buildings are.

From the Trib again:

Only six buildings in Oakland are more than 23 stories, according to Emporis, an independent research group that catalogues high-rise construction. Those buildings are the 28-story Ordway Building on Valdez Street, the 28-story Kaiser Center on Lakeside Drive, the 27-story Lake Merritt Plaza on Harrison Street, the 24-story tower at 1111 Broadway, the 25-story Kaiser Engineering Building on Harrison Street and the 24-story Clorox Building on Broadway.

This building as proposed is 378 feet high, taller than all but two currently existing buildings in Oakland. For reference, here’s the list:

  • Ordway Building: 404 feet.
  • Kaiser Center: 390 feet.
  • Lake Merritt Plaza: 371 feet.
  • 1111 Broadway: 360 feet.
  • Kaiser Engineering Building: 336 feet.
  • Clorox Building: 330 feet.
  • State Building: 328 feet.
  • City Hall: 320 feet.
  • Trib Tower: 310 feet.
  • 1330 Broadway: 297 feet.
  • Pacific Bell Building: 296 feet.
  • 555 12th St: 279 feet.
  • For those who care, the Design Review Committee will be discussing the project at 4:30 today in City Hall hearing room 1. They will probably be asked, as recommended in the staff report, to revise the design so the building looks less like 555 and 1111. I hope they keep the cool peaked top, which will apparently be illuminated at night.

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    9 thoughts on “Journalism by press release

    1. dto510

      I think the top detailing could be better.

      It is very interesting that Shorenstein thinks, despite more competition, they can fill up a larger building than the one built during the dot-com boom. Certainly a demonstration of downtown’s strength!

    2. Ryan

      Shorenstein sent out its own press release this morning that contained the same number for sq footage — 500k. So it’s quite possible the number on the staff report you link includes common areas like the lobby and hallways while 500k is leasable sq footage.

    3. V Smoothe Post author

      Both the staff report and Shorenstein’s submitted proposal specify that the building contains 597,000 sf office space, 10,700 sf of ground floor commercial space, and 24,000 sf mechanical space. Although I haven’t seen the Shorenstein release, my guess would be that it’s the same thing Dellums sent out.

      The size of the building was confirmed at the Design Review Committee this evening.

    4. Ryan

      So are you saying the hallways and lobbies are mechanical or commercial space? I mean, I saw those numbers before I wrote my post.

    5. Ryan

      A Shorenstein spokesman just wrote me that one of the numbers is gross sq footage and the other is net. I just asked him to elaborate.

    6. Ryan

      Based on the response I got, which included the statement “the final product will be somewhere between 500,000 and 597,000,” I am going to try to get more information tomorrow. That’s … quite a range.

    7. V Smoothe Post author

      Ryan –

      The net vs. gross sf explanation of the discrepancy doesn’t really make a ton of sense to me. It was my understanding that gross sf is generally about 110% of net in commercial construction (correct me if this is wrong), so that would only account for half the difference. And since determinations of leaseable square feet (vs. including hallways, etc.) depends so heavily on what tenants you attract and their floorplates, I don’t understand how they could have that number at this point.

      But even if that were the case, the number is meaningless without an explanation of how they arrived at it. If you say this building is 500k sf because you’re using a different metric to determine sf than is standard, then any attempt to compare it to other buildings becomes meaningless.

      Please do keep us updated on what you learn.

    8. Dave B.

      Hopefully this building will be filled with jobs in the private sector and not our ever growing government bureaucracy. Watch out – Oakland Housing Authority will be wanting to use their stimulus dollars on moving in so they can upgrade their office space. They need a high tower to better look down and survey all their projects across West Oakland landscape.