Peralta Colleges & the Kaiser Convention Center

You guys probably recall that over the past year or so, one thing that keeps coming up in the City’s budget discussions is the idea of making some money by selling off the Kaiser Convention Center.

Some people are against it because they are afraid of whoever buys it tearing the building down. Other people are against it because they don’t think we should be selling off City owned property at all.

For my part, I think selling it is a no-brainer, so long as we can get a decent price. I mean, if you don’t want it to get torn down and replaced by a high-rise, well…don’t zone the land for high rises. Problem solved!

And the Kaiser Convention Center is an amazing building. The City can’t do anything with it, so now, instead of putting it to productive use, we just let it sit there, rotting. It’s awful!

And it’s not for lack of effort. We tried to get voters to approve turning it into a new Main Library, and we failed. We spent plenty of time trying to work out something with LiveNation to keep it owned by the City and do something with it, and we couldn’t make that work either. So why not let somebody else have a shot at it? And get ourselves some money to keep City services going at the same time. It just seems so obvious to me.

And so, it was with much delight that I read item 9 on the agenda (PDF) for last night’s meeting of the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees:

Consider approval to formally enter into an exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) between the City of Oakland (City) and Peralta Community College District (District) to explore the potential of purchasing the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center (Kaiser Center) located at 10 Tenth Street in Oakland, California. During the ENA period, the District will continue to conduct required due diligence and engage the shared governance process to determine how the facility might support the District’s educational mission.

So what does this mean? Well, it does not mean that the Peralta Community College District is necessarily going to buy the Kaiser Convention Center from us. It means that they’re talking to the City about it and seeing if they can work something out. They would have to decide out, during the negotiating period, exactly what they would want to do with the property if they bought it, figure out what kind of needs the building has to get it back into usable condition, and of course, come to an agreement on price.

Here’s the explanation from the staff report (PDF):

The City of Oakland has requested that the Peralta Community College District formally enter into an ENA for a period of 120 days. The ENA does not obligate the District to purchase or the City to sell (or approve the sale of) the Kaiser Center. The purpose of this ENA is to insure that both parties will continue to perform any due diligence required so that they may be in a position to make a final decision regarding the purchase and sale of the Kaiser Center. During this ENA period, the District will have the opportunity to explore the options and cost benefit analysis of the proposed acquisition. The duration of the ENA period which started on July 27, will end on November 30, 2010. At that time, an extension may be requested so that stakeholder will have the oppotunity to review and digest the draft business plan.

No, I don’t know why they just approved it last night if it’s expiring in a couple weeks either. I am far from an expert in the workings of the Peralta Community College District. It didn’t really sound at the meeting like they had a plan for it in place, so I assume they’ll just extend it? Anyone who knows is more than welcome to enlighten us in the comments.

What I do know, however, is that unlike the City, they actually have money they can use for capital projects like this, thanks to a 2006 bond measure.

So will the sale to Peralta happen? I have no idea. Area 6 Trustee Cy Gulassa sure didn’t seem convinced it was a good idea last night:

And if they do buy it, what will they do with it? I don’t know that either. I’ve heard some people talk about using it as some kind of sports facility. Other people have talked about using it for performing arts. My fantasy for the property is that Peralta buys it and then we turn it into a joint library between the City and Laney College, although I have gotten the impression that’s off the table. A girl can dream, though. Right?

45 thoughts on “Peralta Colleges & the Kaiser Convention Center

  1. ralph

    Before I hit your last sentence, I was getting excited thinking of a nice new shiny library. You have dashed this young boy’s hope. Are you like, I dunno, some type of dream killer!

  2. livegreen

    A performing arts center would be GREAT!

    Max had some other great ideas in a previous discussion. I also like ideas about showing Laney projects, of any kind, as a way to highlighting the educational process to the public (be it arts, industrial, green, engineering, planning, music or anything).

    Besides sports facilities that could also have times when they’re open to the public, cafes, restaurants, etc. the school can earn money on & which will help bring the donut hole, DT, Lake Merritt together.

    Along with thickening the connection to East Lake, & making the whole Lake area more vibrant…

  3. Karen Bishop

    When businesses buy buildings they do so only after they’ve determined why they need a new building. Then they find the building that meets the need.

    Peralta and the City have it all backwards. It makes me wonder how this idea got started in the first place. What has taken place behind the scenes that we don’t yet know about.

  4. mel

    Long shot question: Does anyone know what the square footage of the main arena is?

    Also when is the 12th Street reconfiguration work supposed to be completed?

  5. PRE

    V, I have to say I’m terribly dissapointed by the cavalier way you look on the possible sale of the Convention Center. This is property that is owned by the people of the City of Oakland and it’s not up to the people who happen to be sitting in supervisor seats at the moment to make irrevocable decisions like this. It says “For the People of Oakland” in giant letters carved right into the building itself. Perhaps I’m mistaken and what’s actually written was “For whomever can pay the most in times of trouble.” Selling the Convention Center now would be the worst possible move particularly in a down market. The libarary measure lost by about 400 votes. Oakland can and should try again, and if it takes 10 years it will be worth it in the end.

  6. PRE

    V, I have to say I’m terribly dissapointed by the cavalier way you look on the possible sale of the Convention Center. This is property that is owned by the people of the City of Oakland and it’s not up to those who happen to be sitting in supervisor seats at the moment to make irrevocable decisions like this. It says “For the People of Oakland” in giant letters carved right into the building itself. Perhaps I’m mistaken and what’s actually written was “For whomever can pay the most in times of trouble.” Selling the Convention Center now would be the worst possible move particularly in a down market. The libarary measure lost by about 400 votes. Oakland can and should try again, and if it takes 10 years it will be worth it in the end.

  7. Naomi Schiff

    12th Street work, which should make the old building considerably more desirable, better accessible, and foster indoor/outdoor events connected with the soon-to-be park along the lake there, should be finished in fall 2012.

  8. woody

    Thank you Cy Golassa! What a novel idea, develop a PLAN then find/create the faclilities to execute the plan. City Council should do a note to self here. A sports facility with a retail component makes most sense here. I can envision indoor soccer/hoops/yoga etc. A performing arts/conert venue would work as well. As much as I like sticks and bricks libraries they are a notion of the past, replaced by digital media access and libraries in the “cloud”.

  9. The Boss

    You do, of course, realize that with the advent of electronic books, libraries are going to be largely obsolete within 10 or so years, right?

    Having such a large space for a new library would just be silly.

  10. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Um, have you ever been to a library? They offer much more than the New York Time’s best seller list.

  11. Naomi Schiff

    I supported Measure N. Okay, maybe a library there won’t happen. But Mr. Boss, library usage is UP not down, and libraries provide electronic access and fast internet access to our citizens, as well as books, recordings, dvds, magazines, and ephemera. (Print matter is still pretty useful, and contains a great deal of info that is not easily findable nor accessible on the web.) In the aud, the Calvin Simmons Theater is an acoustically superior space that many musical groups used and would again like to use. The arena space is suitable for sports events, in my not-that-ancient memory holding UC women’s bball while Haas Pavilion was under construction, and the Pan American Games gymnastics qualification meets. The city spent a substantial sum on upgrading the building in the mid-1980s. I think I remember 20 million. Undoubtedly there is more to do, especially to make the heating plant energy-efficient, but this is a very usable building.

  12. Matt C.

    I gotta rant for a moment….

    Why is it so damn hard to protect an architectural gem in this dang town? Really? I don’t get it. What in the heck is it with the failure to find a suitable tenant for the Kaiser Center? Really? The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in SF could very well have ended up like HJKCC, but it didn’t -why???

  13. len raphael

    comparisons like that with sf come down to whether you think oakland officials are not as competent as their sf counterparts or simply that Oakland is hecka poorer city than SF. it’s certainly not as densely populated with well to do residents or the tourist destination. that’s not entirely a chicken or egg issue.

    isn’t the comparison to SF success with their baseball stadium a similar question?

  14. Matt C.

    My point was that success is possible. Everyday I walk or drive by the Center I get more motivated to do something about it’s shuttered state. I just don’t know who’s already trying to do something -I just want to help them.

  15. len raphael

    Naomi, i hope i’m wrong, but hasn’t every large building we’ve used public monies to save resulted in large cost overruns or bad debt losses?

    Marriott (see Ruby’s recent announcement), Ice Rink, Lake Chalet, Rotunda?, Fox

    Could well be that the public benefits made some of those worth doing, but they didn’t “pencil out” in any financial sense.

    The usual way we would save Kaiser Aud is to reach into the seemingly bottomless RDA sack o’gold somehow (eg. “sell” it to RDA) or the current tactic of getting Peralta District to take it. (I still don’t understand how Peralta can afford to maintain that big ol thing, even if it has the funds to aquire it.

    Another odd thing about this town, is that it doesn’t seem able to tap into qualified energetic mover shaker civic minded types like Ralph was describing in Baltimore, or the kind SF, SJ, NYC get. Some of them surely live here or at least work here.

  16. Naomi Schiff

    The Kaiser Aud. probably does not require the level of investment that was put into the Fox or the Rotunda. City put in 20 million in 1985 approx., and it isn’t so bad structurally. A lot depends on what the use is to be. I have been reviewing the various estimates for re-use. These large civic buildings need to generate income to justify the expenditures. What are the reuse prospects and what kind of ancillary benefits do they generate? I think the Fox and the Rotunda will pay back their subsidies. These projects were not entirely paid for by the Redevel agency. Marriott and Ice Rink are more completely Redevel projects. Lake Chalet largely a Measure DD thing. The shutdown of the auditorium was an unwise move by D Edgerley. It would have been better to keep it in operation and improve the way it was run, in my view, since it wasn’t losing that much money, and an operating building is easier to revitalize than one that has been mothballed. (I believe part of it was some kind of quarrel with the stagehands union.) Unfortunately, because at the time Mayor Brown believed in the ridiculous proposal to put the cathedral atop the auditorium parking lot, the building and its land were excluded from the Lake Merritt Master Plan and not included in Measure DD. Otherwise we could have had a straightforward financing mechanism for it. We are now dealing with some effects of wild schemes from long ago. I don’t necessarily think the Peralta District use or joint use is a bad idea. The geographic setup makes sense, and they have very limited assembly space. As the new 12th St. project finishes up I think the Auditorium will be way more viable as a venue. I also think we should un-name it Kaiser, which causes enormous confusion about which end of the lake we are talking about! Oakland Auditorium it was born, and ought to be called.

  17. annalee allen

    thanks for the recap Naomi, you make several excellent points, actually I think it was originally called the Oakland Municipal Auditorium.
    In any case, keeping my fingers crossed that in the not too distant future, this resource will be open again. And when it is, I will happily walk over to it from the Lake, across the beautiful new boulevard. Who wants to join me?

  18. ralph

    Is this auditorium suitable for 21st century usage? I am of the mindset that Oakland misses out on convention opportunities, not just due to the lack of hotel rooms but also because it lacks suitable showcase space.

    Out of curiosity, what are the proposed usages?

  19. Naomi Schiff

    Previous proposals included: relocated main library, intl trade center, and Live Nation performance venue. In there now: a fine proscenium stage with seating as a concert hall on one end, and a not-too-huge sports arena/assembly hall layout on the other. There are also some meeting rooms of a reasonable size. Discussions as noted above have centered around some kind of joint library facility city/Laney, (Laney has an underpowered library) or Laney-only, performance venue for Laney plus could be rented out, possible sports use. Stage needs some upgrading, but the main thing I hear people worry about is the heating system. Seems to me this building could be solarized: it has a big roof.

  20. len raphael

    if we went back to the sale to RDA plan A, is the RDA allowed to hold and operate the bldg, at al loss? or are they required to resell within a specific number years?

  21. John Tuttle

    I never understood why the Oakland Auditorium was left off the Lake Merritt Master Plan, so thanks, Naomi, for explaining that. Many Oakland residents don’t know that the beautiful terra cotta sculptures on the north side of the building were done by Alexander Milne Calder, grandfather of Alexander Calder, inventor of the mobile. The Calvin Simmons Theater has some of the best acoustics in the west. Heating was provided by a steamship engine; the building was built around the engine, which is in the basement, but the engine doesn’t work, so basically there’s no heat. It’s an important civic treasure in a part of Oakland that’s going to look very different in the coming years because of Measure DD improvement, and because of what BART and OUSD are doing over the next few years in that part of town. Save the Oakland Civic Auditorium!

  22. Naomi Schiff

    John, I think it was Alexander Stirling Calder, son of Milne and daddy of Alexander (imagine this family with its three generations of sculptors!). He also produced work for the Pan Pacific Exposition on Treasure Island, and one of those pieces is in the Oakland museum: star maiden. Photo on the wiki page. Perhaps we need to convene a Save the Auditorium advocacy group?

  23. Naomi Schiff

    Len–that’s an interesting question, and the expert would be Henry Gardner, who achieved some such scheme a couple of decades ago. The rules have changed somewhat, I think.

  24. Livegreen

    I like Woody’s ideas. Combine with a few cafes & restaurants open to the public, that r also income generating. Throw in a couple galeries (fits w the Artown effort), and Peralta District student exhibitions (highlighting the education process in a gallery-exposition format), all can charge admission.

    + it’s so close to the Lake & CA Museum it would really draw people to that part of DT & to Oakland. Way more than a library!

    If there were a way to change the arena portion from sports center to trade show venue, per Ralph’s suggestion, that would attract way more big trade shows than the small convention center. But that might require something expensive like a removable floor…
    Though I don’t think that’s impossible. Isn’t that how they do hockey at some venues?

    Speaking of which, where did the Ice Rink used to b in the building? Didn’t you post a link to that before Naomi? Would love to c some more pictures of the building “in action”…

  25. Naomi Schiff

    I don’t know that a permanent ice rink was ever in that building. Roller skating though:

    Famous events were huge garden shows (there was a second building next to this one, before Laney was built) and the yearly holiday pageant run by the famous Louise Jorgenson

    For other entertaining moments of the past, google Grateful Dead and Oakland Aud.

    Various famous and not-so politicians held huge rallies there (I saw Dukakis–remember him?–and Clinton there I think).

    (When the Olympic Ice Skating trials were held in Oakland a rink was set up in the new convention center at 11th St. We saw Yamaguchi and Bonaly practicing there, no charge to watch the greatest skaters of the time. Seen up close, we were impressed with the athleticism, hard falls and multiple bruises.)

    In the Oakland History Room collection there are many photos of things that happened there. One well-known series being when it was used to house patients during the 1918 flu epidemic

    The sports arena can be used for a trade show or exhibition, because most of the seats are up one level, looking down at the floor. I don’t think it is that huge, though, perhaps smaller than the one downtown.

  26. annalee allen

    This was the original multi-use facility back in 1915. And there was an art gallery there as well, those artworks would later be incorporated into the OMCA’s California Art Collection.

  27. John Klein

    The land where the Kaiser Center is sited is park land, Peralta Park. The land is restricted to park land use only; this was part of the original agreement when the City accepted the land in the early 1900′s. This provision is written into the agreement.
    In truth, the Kaiser building violates this provision.

    Should the building be torn down, CALM will seek to enforce the provision that the property is for park land purposes only. That is, no building can replace the Kaiser building. Yes, it will take a court battle to enforce it and the City will argue that it can do what it wants with park land.

    However, this particular piece of property falls under a very specific provision in the Government Code of California state law. This is because the land was purchased with money raised in the 1907 Park Bond, an election held specifically to raise money to buy park land in Oakland. State law says if you raised the money to buy park land in an election, then you must have another election if you want to change the use of the park land to something else. (Ca. Gov. Code Section 38502)

  28. tagami

    This building needs significant systems work but remains viable for a number of uses. I had submitted an offer some four years ago and were rebuffed becasue we were “involved in too many other deals” and other needed to be allowed to try. We would consider resubmitting, but the process must be transparent, conclusive, and not a waste of time. If the decision is to sell… then sell. If the decsion is to hold, then contemplate a longterm lease..with reasonble flexibility to whom ever would bear the burden and liablity of the of the maintenace and upkeep. This might be a good panel topic for the up coming CPF meeting. Peace

  29. Max Allstadt

    This is an opportunity that I would be very sad to see passed over.

    I was at the plaza in Golden Gate Park on friday night, between the Academy of Sciences and the De Young. It is world class civic space, on par with the best that New York, Paris and Tokyo have to offer.

    The Kaiser Center is the only location in the I can think of where civic space of that caliber can be made in the east bay.

    To that end, whether it becomes a library, a performing arts center, a museum, or some combination thereof, I have one simple thing that I really want to see: All of the surface parking surrounding the center MUST go.

    In particular, I want to see a situation where you can walk out the north side of the Convention center directly on to a pedestrian only plaza or lawn.

    All of the Measure DD improvements are fantastic, but if we leave that lot in between the building and the new park space, it will be nothing short of a turd on Oakland’s cake.

  30. Naomi Schiff

    For now at least the parking lot remains but will be reconfigured to take less space. Walking between the lake-edge park and the building one will cross on the surface–no more tunnels–and the roadway will be half as wide as formerly. Most potential users would want to keep some parking. However,the aud should be well served when the rapid bus starts to go by there, assuming a stop in the vicinity. It is also not terribly far from Lake M. BART so it’s true that public transit is a good option.

  31. len raphael

    Surprisingly reasonable Trib editorial. Of course it’s crazy for the Peralta CC District to acquire an auditorium when it needs labs, vocational training shops, and classrooms.

    Don’t underestimate the ineptitude of the Peralta Board. This is the same board that brought us Marcie Hodge and the conflicts of interest by Elihu, and personal use of credit cards by several board members. All aided and abetted by the lack of attention to the District by the voters who re-elected the incumbents.

    But this is too big for the Board to approve without waking up residents in the other cities served by Peralta.

  32. Navigator

    Anyone know if the Kaiser Convention Center can be reconfigured into a modern state-of-the-art sports arena within the frame of its current historic shell? I know there’s a 5600 seat arena along with a theater and two ball rooms. I’m wondering if it would be possible to fit a 18,000 seat arena within the existing shell. In seven years the Warriors and Sharks maybe looking for a new arena. What a spectacular setting for 18,000 fans and their disposable income.

  33. Max Allstadt


    I know they need parking. It’s just currently in an idiotic location as far as creating good civic space is concerned. I’d favor undergrounding it, or building some shiny awesome ultramodern looking showpiece garage an adequate distance from the building.

    There has to be some nearby space that can be used instead of ruining the lawn with it. Again, the idea of being able to walk straight out of that building to the lake is just too perfect to sacrifice to a surface lot.

  34. Naomi Schiff

    Ruining the lawn? I guess the former lawn sometime pre-1948. I wasn’t here for that, but it does look like planted area in images from the period shortly after the building was constructed. Hard to tell exactly from the black and white photos, although colored postcards show a painted-in green. (One might consider bushes or native plants: grass plantings exacerbate the goose problems.) I am sympathetic, but the parking lot is probably a given, in order to work out a viable lease or sale for public assembly activities, even though you and I might walk there or take public transit. I will take your thought, though, and see what the plan is for access across the parking lot. At the very least there should be a nice walkway, not making people dodge the cars.

  35. ralph

    What about the parking structure at 13th and Jackson? Isn’t that like 4 blocks? But I agree with Max do not sacrifice the lawn for parking.

    I seem to recall reading about goose mgmt processes but can’t seem to find them now. I believe the best approach is don’t feed the geese.

  36. Max Allstadt


    I wasn’t talking about “ruining” in the context of maintaining the historically accurate form of the building.

    I was talking about ruining the lawn in that we have an opportunity for world class civic space, and a parking lot does not belong in it.

    Just imagine how grand it would be to have a plaza and/or lawn that you can exit the Kaiser center on to, allowing you to walk directly to the lake. And vice-versa: walk around the lake and directly over the lawn to an event at the Kaiser Center.

    It’s also about making the Kaiser Center’s surroundings more appealing. Exiting it and being on a plaza overlooking the lake would be awesome. A little food-service made available, some deck chairs, some wifi… The reason this complex would have made such a great library is that it would feel like Oakland’s living room and sun-porch. It is ideal gathering space, and it deserves world-class treatment.

  37. Naomi Schiff

    Just to be clear. There is no lawn now. We will gain approx 4 acres of planted and park area mostly between the lake edge and the newly reconfigured (narrower) 12th Street. Between 12th St. and the Auditorium has long been parking lot. It will continue as parking lot, though redesigned. The area was planted at least some of the years 1912 to whenever the parking lot was built (some time before 1948?), and since then has been paved. Trees cut down last year are scheduled to be replaced with new landscaping. Re: geese. They like to eat grass lawns. Planting grass is feeding them. They keep the grass nice and short, but in exchange they leave the famously controversial deposits. In other developments: near the lake channel adjoining Peralta Park there is a bird marsh restoration area. Many waterfowl congregate there even now.

    As to the sort of iconic midcentury circular parking structure: it is owned by the county of Alameda. It would make sense to use it during events, and probably there would be a way for the county to make money on the deal. But it is a little farther than the reputed walking distance people are willing to go–two or three blocks I think it is?–so don’t know if a tenant of the auditorium would find that adequate. I’m not saying I agree–I walk a lot–but many people drive.

  38. Max Allstadt


    I get it. I’m talking about the future, and about creating a situation where the north side of the Kaiser Center becomes a sort of “back porch” for the entire city to share, set perfectly above the lake with an epic view of downtown, the hills, and all the lakeside neighborhoods.

    As for geese, they don’t just stay because there’s grass. They stay because they’re protected by the urban environment from natural predators that might eat them or their young, and they’re protected from human hunters by law. That’s why their overpopulated. There are plenty of places that have grass but no protection that don’t get overrun by geese.

    We should mandate organic fertilizers on our parkland, and cull all the non-migrating geese. We can do it as a historical education excercise: Have an Ohlone style bow or snare hunt and egg gathering, a Spanish style blunderbuss hunt, and an Anglo shotgun hunt. Then a feast, serving goose and goose eggs alongside seasonal vegetables in historically appropriate styles, accurate down to the lack of utensils.

    Solve the overpopulation problem and teach the children something about deliciousness!

  39. Karen Smulevitz

    Louise Jorgensen taught my kids the dance routines for the Christmas Pageant for a couple of years. What a thrill it was to see all the school children perform, and memories endure and endear the Oakland Auditorium to me. Many concerts with the likes of Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach are remembered along with other events, and the brand on the building was OAKLAND. I’m all for preserving the historical art and bones of the Aud while modernizing the interior and putting it to use for the benefit of the people of Oakland.

  40. Max Allstadt

    I wonder if we might swallow our pride and get some extra funding for Kaiser if we were willing to let it be an Alameda County or East Bay branded facility.

  41. Naomi Schiff

    I’d be so happy to lose the Kaiser name, which though glorious, directs people to the wrong end of the lake. As to goose control, we have discussed that elsewhere. The public works folks and the Lake Merritt Institute are actually well on top of this, keep count of resident birds, and have been addling eggs to keep the pop. down. But I am not going to get back into the big goose discussion as we have already been there.