Tour participants pedal along the Point
Tour participants pedal along the Point
Video by Donna Eyestone.
City staffers have been moving a mountain of paper this year to prepare Alameda Point for development in 2014. But on Saturday they mounted their bicycles, leading more than 100 cyclists on a three-hour tour intended to help them visualize the city’s plans.
Over the course of the nine-stop tour, the city staffers charged with leading the revitalization of the Point detailed how they will transform the former Navy base into a vibrant, new community offering nearly 10,000 jobs and more than 1,400 homes, a massive sports complex and a waterfront center where workers and residents alike can enjoy a meal and a glass of wine at the end of the day as kayakers paddle happily in Seaplane Lagoon.
They also outlined the many challenges they’ll face as the city attempts to affect that transformation – rising tides, historic structures that have been left at the mercy of nature and thieves for nearly two decades, infrastructure costs of approximately $1 million an acre – along with a lack of clear funding sources to address all of those issues while building the amenities residents want.
The Point is already home to dozens of companies that employ more than 1,000 people plus hundreds of residents, but their presence is obscured by hundreds of acres of moldering building husks and vast expanses of pavement that are losing a decades-long battle with the weeds.
“We are a temporary parking lot. That’s what Alameda Point is now,” Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott told a group of about two dozen cyclists. (City Planner Andrew Thomas led a second, larger group of cyclists on the tour.)
Even so, the Point showed some signs of life on Saturday: Student car and motorcycle drivers made use of its largely abandoned roads and parking lots, while young soccer players played on a verdant field – one of the few small areas of the Point that showed obvious signs of a caretaker’s attention. One of the tour stops was a wetland in a remote area of the Point that few ever see, and a paved path through the Northwest Territories – which will become wetlands as the Bay seeks to reclaim its former footprint – offered the smoothest cycling on the tour.
The Alameda Point Collaborative’s lush Ploughshares Nursery offered a pleasing backdrop to Executive Director Doug Biggs’ pitch for his plan to transform 35 acres of “really crappy” housing and ambitious social enterprise into a state-of-the-art, 10-acre campus that will better serve the Collaborative’s 500 residents; on the other end of the base, a stoic row of Coast Guard ships anchored silently in San Francisco Bay, terminating in the massive gray wall of the Cape Orlando.
After the tour, participants were encouraged to stop for food and drink at Rock Wall Wine Company, one of a triumvirate of wine, liquor and beer producers the city hopes will serve as a beacon to like businesses along Monarch Street, which they have dubbed “Spirits Alley.”
But evidence of the impacts of what was supposed to be a short-term strategy of leasing out portions of the base and spending as little as possible on upkeep abounded. Broken windows and trash heaps are a dominant feature of the once-proud Naval base; a set of formerly usable tennis courts was half-hidden by weeds.
“We always thought we were on the verge of redevelopment,” Ott said.
The abandoned base’s seeming lawlessness appeared to encourage tour participants to flaunt the rules painstakingly laid out before the ride began; stop signs were flaunted and entire roadways crowded with cyclists, in spite of those admonitions. If anything, the Point may be ruled by the seabirds, whose presence was evident in the heavy scattering of broken mussel shells riders carefully wove around.
Like the Collaborative and the ships, they will also retain a presence at Alameda Point. While the plans for the Point may soon be solidified, though – Ott said they could be finalized by city leaders by January 2014, with predevelopment work beginning the following year – its future is far from certain.
Existing plans call for 5.5 million square feet of commercial space, an amount Ott called “pretty ambitious” (about 2 million square feet of Point property is being leased out now). If five or 10 years pass without Alameda attracting the next Google to the Point, the city could change its development plans, even though they face a $50,000 per unit payment on any market rate housing they build over an allowable cap of 1,425 homes.
Still, Ott encouraged tour participants to get involved in the city’s planning efforts this year. The Planning Board and City Council will be reviewing a host of key planning documents over the next few months, and the city is surveying residents to find out what they’d most like to see adorn the Point’s future waterfront.
“Now is the time to be involved,” she said.