Packed into the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s conference room downtown, representatives from numerous Oakland agencies listened attentively as two new city department heads unveiled their visions for economic development in Oakland.

Kelley Kahn, the new Director of Economic and Workforce Development for the City of Oakland, spoke first. She described her previous experience working in San Francisco overseeing development projects in the Mission Bay neighborhood and Pier 70. She emphasized the importance of placemaking and institutionalizing innovation in order to create a more nimble and responsive city government.

Next, Rachel Flynn, Director of Building and Planning, expertly  went through an ambitious presentation reflecting on strategies she’d developed in Richmond, VA, where she also served as the Director of Planning and Development, and how these strategies might apply in an Oakland context. Flynn’s vision for the city highlighted transportation needs and the importance of open spaces. Somewhat ironically, Flynn exuded a lot of excitement around planting hundreds of oak trees around the city. Unbeknownst to her, the iconic oak trees she referred to are actually not allowed to be planted on the streets of Oakland.

Interestingly, both city officials referenced the importance of makers and the creative economy in the development and marketing plans for Oakland. Kahn and Flynn expanded their definition of “maker” to include both artists and engineers working in spaces like American Steel Studios and the city’s historic manufacturing and industrial roots. Both agreed that the contributions of the creative class to the city were invaluable, and outlined the need to attract new and growing tech companies to the city.

Investment in public transit was another important theme that ran through both official’s presentations. Flynn said she was quite confident that a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system servicing downtown and International Boulevard would come to fruition in the near future, and expressed similar optimism around a streetcar plan. Kahn and Flynn highlighted transit-oriented development plans, such as the MacArthur Transit Village currently under construction, as important to boost Oakland’s economy. A BART official in attendance was especially happy about this point, explaining that BART has plenty of capacity to bring people into Oakland from San Francisco, not so much the other way around, and that the 19th Street BART station is their “rockstar” station, setting ridership records with every passing day. Flynn noted that Oakland’s freeways are oriented toward mobility–getting people out of the city–whereas a city should be about access–oriented toward walkability.

Flynn also fleetingly made mention of plans to potentially demolish housing near downtown to make room for a Target. Yet earlier in her presentation, Kahn noted that Oakland is the most exciting city in America, according to real estate blog Movoto. As part of their criteria, Movoto factored in the low amount of big box stores as a score-booster, stating, “Big box stores aren’t necessarily bad—but they are boring. …Specifically, we counted the number of Targets and Walmarts in an area.” Although sales tax revenue would surely benefit the resource-strapped city government, what would a giant retailer like Target mean for the character (not to mention parking and traffic) of downtown?

The Chamber’s next Economic Development Forum takes place on July 10th and addresses the design and construction of the new Bay Bridge and Gateway Park.

17 Responses

  1. Matt of Uptown

    I’d be against a Target if it would put quality local businesses out of business, but Walgreen’s, RiteAid and CVS already did that -so bring on the lower prices and better selection.

  2. David Young

    I would welcome a wall mart down town. Provided it dos not displace any home owners. And dos not overly effect local businesses. Would definitely add some tax dollars to the city coffers. So maybe we could hire a few new police officers and restore other city services.

  3. betty

    No Target! Target is the Walmart of the creative class. There’s one in Emeryville and one in Berkeley. Let’s give our local businesses a shot at flourishing.

    • Mike Linksvayer

      The “Emeryville” Target is actually in Oakland. It is part of a development that straddles the two cities so they share tax revenue.

    • Billy

      Seriously, don’t bring any stores like Target to Oakland, what we really need is more locally owned liquor stores that charge high prices for a limited selection of basic goods.

    • maiki

      And the one in Berkeley is actually in Albany. I don’t know about the tax breakdown, though.

      What was the reaction at the meeting to the Target placement?

  4. Mike Linksvayer

    Flynn noted that Oakland’s freeways are oriented toward mobility–getting people out of the city–whereas a city should be about access–oriented toward walkability.

    Flynn also fleetingly made mention of plans to potentially demolish housing near downtown to make room for a Target.

    Speaking of freeways and space near downtown, how about demolishing 980?

    • Tim

      It’d be nice if Oakland could get in on the freeway-demolishing game instead of having SF unload all the through traffic in the bay area onto Oakland. SF makes grand plans to knock down 280 while Oakland is stuck with the wasteland under 880 and the open wound of 980 cutting off downtown and West Oakland.

      And bring on Target for that matter. Hopefully they’ll move in and fix up that building when Sears inevitably goes under.

  5. marina

    where does the majority of oakland’s population fit into the economic development vision that appears to focus exclusively on highly-educated creative classers (like myself :P)?

  6. Max Chanworld

    Some good, well-proven ideas here, here’s hoping the city can actually go ahead and execute them!

    A note on the downtown Target: while it is a ‘boring’ big-box store, it would be a brilliant move for several reasons. It would provide a steady draw of people to a downtown that today feels oddly deserted despite Oakland’s nascent upswing. It’d bring affordable goods to folks that need them and currently have to drive miles away to get them. It’d yield tons of tax revenue for a city that needs every penny. It’d provide needed food and grocery options in an area that is now a food-desert dotted with liquor stores. And if it was designed for an infill site, like SF’s City Target, it could easily fit in an existing building without creating the wasteful sprawl that traditional big-box stores generate. There’s an awful lot of vacant property downtown, surely there’s somewhere that can accommodate a compact Target with multi-level parking. Demolishing housing to achieve this goal is a terrible idea (displacing people, enormous resistance) and probably unnecessary.

    Also, as others have mentioned, the stretch of 980 dividing Downtown and West Oakland should absolutely be torn down, much as the Central and Embarcadero Freeways have been in SF. It’s a blight on the city, and totally unnecessary with 880 so close by. In typical urban freeway fashion, 980 has laid waste to every area it passes through: every single over- or under-pass of that freeway is somewhere you definitely don’t want to be caught at night.

  7. Sean

    I’d like to see a clothing store in Oakland which caters to small and medium men’s sizes.

  8. Cynthia

    Yes, Please! I love that idea. Oakland needs to start getting into the freeway tearing down game. The 980 is so unnecessary – unless your goal is the get people past downtown as fast as possible.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.