By Michael Orion Powell
ALAMEDA -- After more than two decades of false starts, Alameda is finally moving forward on long-held plans to redevelop its former Naval air station.
While separated by the estuary, Oakland and Alameda are connected and construction on the "Island" can and often does impact our community here in Oakland.
City officials expressed hope that Alameda Point’s redevelopment has at last turned a corner and is truly in progress.
“It’s on its way if you drive out there today,” said Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer. “You’ll see construction happening and Alamedans have been very involved in the process, attending multiple outreach sessions led by the city, as well as planning board meetings and City Council meetings.”
Last year’s OK by Alameda City Council of plans for the area on the former base known as Site A started the long-awaited redevelopment process. Site A will eventually feature 800 new homes. Construction began this summer.
A second, smaller “West Midway” site was also recently green-lighted by the City Council. The 22.8-acre parcel will be a mixed-use project to feature 291 homes. Final proposals for the West Midway site are due back to the city by Sept. 19 and a master developer will be named sometime in early 2019, city officials said.
When Site A is completed in 2020 it will also feature 600,000 square feet of commercial area and 8 acres of waterfront development including a new ferry terminal. The Site A redevelopment is being led by srmERNST and a consortium of development and construction partners.
Both sites will be governed by a Project Labor Agreement but the details of that agreement were not immediately known. Andreas Cluver of the Alameda County Building and Trades Council in Oakland could not be reached for comment before deadline.
In addition to offering a variety of housing types, Alameda Point will see the expansion of a number of amenities, including retail, restaurant and entertainment venues, according to Alameda Community Development Director Debbie Potter. She said the city will continue to foster the development of a custom wine and spirits industry at the location, known as Spirits Alley.
“We will have the Veterans Administration, we’re going to have a clinic there, and then we’re going to have plans for a sports complex. It’s actually a really good-sized site. It’s about a third of the size of Alameda,” Potter said of the former base.
“The overall goal of the redevelopment [at the] Point is to integrate the former naval airspace into the larger Alameda community,” Spencer said. “[We want] to create a new community that has jobs, housing, open space, parks, and transportation. That’s kind of the big goal.”
The city has experienced numerous false starts to redeveloping the base since the Navy officially closed the site in 1997. Chief among the obstacles was the city getting title to the full site from the Department of Defense. The price of the land -- which represents a full third of the island city -- went from zero to $97 million. Negotiations on the price, and then extensive wrangling over whether there would be a single master developer or a series of developers, further delayed the process.
Adding to the slow pace of the former base’s redevelopment has been the issue of who will pay to replace or rehabilitate the facility’s aging and expensive infrastructure systems -- including sewers, pipes, electrical grid, street lights, and roads.
Largely considered a so-called “brownfield” redevelopment, the extensive nature of toxic contaminants found at the base after years of Navy use also slowed progress, officials said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually labeled the facility a Superfund site.
Alameda NAS holds deep historical ties to the Navy from World War II forward. Alameda NAS was homeport to two Nimitz-class aircraft carriers in the 1990s and is still the permanent port of the historic USS Hornet aircraft carrier, now a floating museum.
Michael Orion Powell is a Bay Area freelance journalist.