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Developer to transform historic Alameda warehouse into 309 waterfront apartments

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Blanca Torres
San Francisco Business Times

New lofts and apartments could soon fill up the cavernous interior of a former Del Monte warehouse in Alameda, part of a developer’s vision to turn an underutilized stretch of waterfront property into a thriving district along the Oakland Estuary.

Tim Lewis Communities plans to revamp the historic, 235,792-square-foot brick-and-timber warehouse into 309 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail as well as to build new construction on surrounding vacant land.

“We want to attract people who want to be close to the water,” said James Meek, who is leading the development for Tim Lewis Communities. “With amenities like retail and restaurants, it becomes a waterfront playground.”

The warehouse, built in 1927, extends 1,000 feet long and 240 feet wide along a curved line that makes it look like a huge brick snake. It now houses some industrial tenants such as beverage and lumber distributors. The developer hired BAR Architects to design the redevelopment with two-story apartment units, lofts and retail spaces.

Adjoining land is slated for at least 55 units of additional housing and 20,000 square feet of more retail. The units in the warehouse structure will range from one to three bedrooms, measuring between 1,150 to 1,766 square feet. Ten of the units will be designed as live/work.

The developer, a homebuilder based in Roseville, is pushing the project through the city’s approval process and is set to go before the planning commission and city council in the next few months. Meek estimates the project could break ground in mid-2015. “It’s an exciting project for the city,” said Andrew Thomas, a city planner who has been working on the development. “It’s a historic resource we’ve been trying to redevelop and preserve for many years.”

The warehouse sits on an 11-acre site adjacent to the Encinal Terminals, a 17-acre former working dock that Tim Lewis Communities also plans to redevelop into housing, retail and recreation space.

The developer sees the former terminal as a complement to the warehouse project. Both sites will connect to a future 21-acre city park that Tim Lewis Communities is pitching in $2 million to fund.

The stretch of waterfront doesn’t offer much access to the water other than a marina. The Del Monte warehouse site neighbors Marina Village, a 1.1 million square-foot office and lab space complex, and a vacant parcel known as the Chipman site that Lennar Homes is developing into 89 homes.

Meek said the developer is looking at setting up a water shuttle service to ferry future residents across the estuary into Oakland, where they can access BART via bus lines.

Alameda residents frequently oppose major new housing developments because of concerns over increased traffic via the island city’s bridges and tunnels. The warehouse project would help add variety to Alameda’s housing stock by bringing more apartments to the market.

“We have a long history of doing single family homes in this town,” Thomas said.

Alameda’s Working Waterfront

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BC Staff Report

Published: April 2014

Arivia question: where was the first land-based container crane installed, heralding a revolution in world commerce? Oakland? Long Beach?

The answer would be Alameda. The crane was installed in 1959 at the Matson Lines Encinal Terminals to speed delivery of pineapples from Hawaii. What didn’t seem significant at the time turned out to be a very big deal. It may not be as big as containerization, but something remarkable is quietly emerging on Alameda’s waterfront again.

The San Francisco Bay waterfront is rapidly gentrifying—Bay Crossings, as an original tenant of the Ferry Building, is part of that trend—with expensive restaurants, ballparks and boutiques crowding out traditional maritime businesses. In stark contrast, Alameda positively welcomes working waterfront businesses with open arms. Some Alameda leaders envision a dedicated zone for such outfits stretching from the High Street Bridge clear around to Ferry Point on the old Naval Air Base, altogether comprising roughly one-third the main island’s waterfront.

Alameda’s contrarian stance is a boon for likely suspects like stolid marine operators Bay Ship & Yacht Company (barge and mid-sized ship repair), Dutra (dike restoration) and Power Engineering (seawall construction). They—along with their hundreds of well-paid blue-collar jobs for welders, painters and other workers—look to be securely in Alameda for decades to come.

Yet Alameda’s is not your father’s waterfront, something you’d conjure up from an old Marlon Brando movie. Alameda’s new working waterfront is a hotbed of distinctive, innovative and thoroughly hip young companies. They include craft breweries, a high-wheel “bonecrusher” bike restorer, a deep-sea submarine maker, an America’s Cup team and much and many more.

All in all, Alameda seems poised to contest with San Francisco’s white-hot Dogpatch neighborhood for the sobriquet of San Francisco Bay’s hippest up-and-coming waterfront spot. The Dogpatch is epicenter of the so-called “maker’s movement,” the source of indigenously crafted goods marketed under the “San Francisco Made” moniker. Like Alameda, it is a heritage maritime district.

Yet in the Dogpatch, gentrification looks to crowd out traditional maritime operations, which are under assault by a slew of regulatory, zoning and neighborhood pressures. The BAE Shipyard there even saw its “Fred Flintstone” yard whistle stolen and held for ransom, with yard management paying in order to obtain its return. Unlike San Francisco, riven with controversy over the skyrocketing cost of living and high unemployment, Alameda’s welcoming policies are yielding a bounty of well-paid blue-collar jobs toiling on green projects like barges to get trucks off highways and sail-powered oceangoing tankers.

Yet Alameda is enjoying the best of both worlds as all manner of new, decidedly terrestrial businesses are also cropping up, cheek by jowl with traditional maritime firms, thereby greatly increasing the quality of life and moving Alameda into a new league of sophistication. The trend mirrors what is happening in places like New York City, where Brooklyn neighborhoods are, in the eyes of many, stealing the march on Manhattan as the preferred places to live.

With this issue, Bay Crossings kicks off monthly highlights of the intriguing companies who have set up shop in Alameda’s working waterfront. We hope this will become a comprehensive guide to interesting and fun places to visit and enjoy along Alameda’s innovative, hip and burgeoning waterfront scene. It’ll be available in print and on our website.

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