21 March 2005

Oakland = Death Valley for retail?

... or at least that's what the prevailing sentiment was before the Hegenberger Gateway project broke ground. I drove by HG over the weekend and made a few observations:

  1. It's not a very big shopping center. Wal-Mart takes up so much space that there is precious little left for other construction.
  2. The strip that faces Wal-Mart along Hegenberger already has its tenants in place. They are Starbucks, Raider Image, Jamba Juice, T-Mobile, Red Brick Pizza, Quizno's, and Wing Hop. Most of those are fast food establishments.
  3. In-n-Out and Panda Express have standalone buildings that are clearly visible along 880 South.
  4. Simeon Properties is advertising 250,000 square feet available, but it's not the most ideal location because it's in back of Wal-Mart. Not exactly a recipe for high visibility. Simeon is looking for a big-box retailer.
While that's a good start, it barely scratches the surface at providing retail establishments to the woefully underserved Oakland market. Other than Wal-Mart, none of those stores deal with significant overhead or inventory, making them low-risk. Among the retailers that have no current presence in Oakland: Target, Kohl's, T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, Old Navy, Best Buy, Circuit City, or even Bay Area-based stores like Ross, Mervyns, or The Good Guys. Oakland has hired consultants to help combat the stigma that comes with urban retail development in historically depressed areas. Whether or not you want such large retailers in Oakland is another matter altogether. If Wolff's ballpark plan includes retail, you can bet that one or more of those big names will probably be pursued. The question is: Will they have the courage to set up shop in Oakland? If they can't attract the name retailers, any kind of public financing structure based on tax increment funds will have a hard time pulling its own weight, and that's when the specter of the Raiders deal starts to appear.

As for Death Valley, it's amazing what can happen when you sprinkle some rain on the desert...