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Oakland Drawing In Companies, Residents, Capital

MBH Architects' Ryan McNulty, Shorenstein's Todd Sklar, Ellis Partners' Will Miller and WeWork's Elton Kwok

Oakland is coming into its own, and the challenge that now faces both city leaders and developers is how to keep building a city that draws in companies and residents while maintaining a level of affordability for those already there.

"It's a really exciting time to be here, to be involved in this community," MBH Architects principal Ryan McNulty said.

McNulty was one of the moderators at Bisnow's recent The Evolution of Downtown Oakland event at the Scottish Rite Center.

The city has reached a critical mass of large companies either opening satellite offices or moving their whole operations to Oakland, Shorenstein Senior Vice President Todd Sklar said. With each large tenant, there are opportunities they also will bring in smaller tenants or show large tenants the value of being in Oakland and raise the game of the city's office market.

He mentioned that Shorenstein's 601 City Center project has signed a pre-lease with Blue Shield, reflecting that critical mass. The 600K SF, 24-story office tower was initiated 10 years ago, he said.

Parcels that have been in play for decades are starting to see demand as companies seek better access to their East Bay employees, Sklar said.

Cooper, White & Cooper's Kristen Thall Peters, City of Oakland's Katie Dignan and Strada Investment Group's William Goodman

These firms are drawn in not only because many of their employees have already moved to the East Bay in search of cheaper housing, but also because of what the city has to offer around those offices, from restaurants and retail to a thriving arts scene.

People are now traveling from San Francisco to Oakland for a Friday night out, WeWork Northern California Vice President Elton Kwok said.

Since WeWork opened its first Oakland location in December 2017, the coworking company has opened a second location on Broadway and has plans for future expansion within the city.

WeWork was drawn to the growing workforce population in the city and surrounding amenities, from retail to fitness studios, Kwok said. A lot of San Francisco companies are choosing to start offices in or move to Oakland; many start small and can benefit from the space WeWork offers. The sites are a launching pad for companies that want to grow, he said.

Visit Concord Executive Director Elaine Schroth

With growing interest has come capital.

In the past, attracting national capital to Oakland was a monumental effort, Ellis Partners partner and Senior Vice President of Asset Management Will Miller said. Now, he regularly hears about how Oakland is a core market for investors.

"For guys like us who have been around here a long time, that is a fundamental change," he said.

Ellis Partners recently topped off the Key Building at 1100 Broadway on top of the 12th Street BART station, a site that sat for 30 years and broke ground last year. The University of California has already pre-leased space in the 18-story, 334K SF building.

It is easy to close your eyes and imagine the same sort of transformation that has taken place in San Francisco's Mid-Market area happening on Broadway, Sklar said.

RadiantBrands' Steven Donaldson, SUDA's Alan Dones, DCI Engineers' Justin Bettner, JRDV Urban International's Edward McFarlan, BART's Sean Brooks and TCA Architects' Thomas Cox

With such transformation already underway, the challenge is how to maintain that growing live-work-play environment and sense of place in the city so that it continues to attract companies and residents without driving out the residents and businesses that made the city that way. Silicon Valley companies or firms seeking research space that is tapped out in other markets need to see Oakland as a place they can come in and solve some of their large space demands, but in an equitable, responsible way, Strategic Urban Development Alliance CEO Alan Dones said.

"When you're developing in this day and age, you have to — especially in our TOD and mixed-use developments — be creating not only affordability, but creating the ability to afford," Dones said.

That means creating opportunities for jobs, small businesses and housing, he said. Getting that right in a way that stimulates growth and positive community outcomes is vital.

"We have to really embrace all aspects of equality and inclusion and be very intentional in how we go about developing our projects."

There is a lot of pride in Oakland that is driving the move of people and companies into the city, Miller said. Plus, living and working in the city can make for a more pleasant commute.

"If we can get off BART at 12th Street or 19th and not do the cram into the city, why not?"