WHAT IS OAKLAND? WHO IS OAKLAND?
AN OP-ED BY ANH NGUYEN, OAKLAND RESIDENT AND COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ACTIVIST
From my perspective, I'm excited the conversation about the fate of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center (HJKCC) is moving to the City Council.
It's unfortunate that the review panel was even permitted to make a recommendation regarding the HJKCC RFP as it appears it wasn’t equipped with the members to fully compare the final proposals (lacking expertise in hotel development, workforce training/business-college partnerships, and sufficient arts/cultural representation). Furthermore, they weren’t the right people anyways to be answering the true questions, which are far beyond an analysis of the financial capabilities and experience of real estate development teams.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead...with the HJKCC, we're talking about a century of history situated on a cornerstone site (one of the busiest pedestrian pathways in the Bay Area) that will undoubtedly define Oakland. Square footages and occupancies are minutia when the major question hasn't been answered yet:
What does Oakland want to be when it grows up?
The south end of Lake Merritt and the HJKCC can be an anchor for an arts, cultural, and community revival in Oakland--remember total restoration of the building, the tax dollars, 1LM Works!, and round-the-clock street presence of the One Lake Merritt proposal.
Or, the HJKCC can be a pretty, lakefront historic building that a lucky few get to work inside--some people will share great memories as they walk past, others will grumble about the SF-spillover and AirBnB gentrification as they glance at the "LinkedIn/Uber/Twitter...fill-in-the-blank-tech company" sign. Laney College students and the surrounding community may not notice much of a difference with the Orton proposal for offices which are a 9am-5pm use and references to other indeterminate uses.
These are two very different visions--and each is ideal for someone--but what does Oakland want?
How much does Oakland truly embrace its diversity, its uniqueness around the Bay Area, its arts and cultural assets?
How much does Oakland truly want to invest in training the next generation of its own citizens to take on preferred, skilled jobs?
To what degree is Oakland okay with getting San Francisco and Silicon Valley leftovers (ideas/concepts, companies looking for space, etc.)?
When will "Oakland" actually define Oakland?
Whether One Lake Merritt fits that vision or not, this is clearly a conversation for the City Council c/o the People of Oakland.
(Let's pray the Councilmembers remember to keep their ears and minds open!)
-- Anh Nguyen is currently the Executive Director of the Tenderloin Economic Development Project and currently reside in Oakland due to the growing violence and disparity in my previous home in the Tenderloin.