Opposition Grows Over Proposed 40-Story High Rise in Middle of City’s Black Arts District
By Post Staff
An out-of-town developer is trying to build a 40-story high-rise in the middle of Oakland’s Black Movement Arts and Business District against strong community opposition. At its meeting on Feb. 16, both the Planning Commission and the developer were called out by Oaklanders including the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a representative of minority builders.
The Planning Commission acknowledged that they went through the entire design review process for the building without even knowing that the Black Arts and Business District existed! The district was created in 2016 by city council resolution.
When the developers claimed to have Black support, Oakland community leader and owner of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, Geoffrey Pete, quoted Harriet Tubman, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if they had known that they were slaves.”
At the heart of the opposition to the building is the desire to further the legacy of local Black entertainment and entrepreneurship exemplified by businesses like Pete’s. His business is housed in a building that was once the all-white Athenian Club. It is now a historic landmark and the venue for thousands of people who listen to jazz and other entertainment and hold wedding receptions and memorial services.
Geoffrey’s has hosted hundreds of homeless people for holiday dinners with table clothes and fancy cutlery and offered his venue for free to groups ranging from advocates for affordable housing to academics urging Black and Brown residents to become teachers.
Residents are asking the city to make the Black Movement Arts and Business District real by investing in its corridor along 14th Street. The Black population of Oakland has decreased rapidly in the last decade because of the city’s concentration on building housing that is not affordable to people who currently live in Oakland.
Enhancing the Black Arts District could help to stop displacement. Approving this proposed building would further displacement by continuing the policy of approving developments that current Oakland residents cannot afford.
The new building would remove the only parking available in the area and threaten a historic brick building during construction. In addition, acknowledgement of racism and the experience of other cities tell us that new high-end housing developments drive out entertainment venues, especially those frequented by Black customers.
While some argue “we need housing,” others say this claim is disingenuous because this particular housing will displace more Black and Brown Oaklanders in favor of gentrification.
Said one opponent of the development, “If Tidewater wants to build in the Black entertainment district and help Oakland with housing, they should determine the rent level that the average Black family can afford and build for those families.”
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