Oakland is a neighborhood with plenty of personality — dominated by Beaux-Arts/City Beautiful-era monumental civic architecture and student energy — but that’s not true of the entire neighborhood. There’s a dead zone in South Oakland that doesn’t feel like it’s part of one of the state’s most vibrant and economically dynamic urban centers.
That’s the spot near UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital, where an abandoned hotel (formerly a Quality Inn) sits, surrounded by parking lots. It’s referred to as “Parcel A,” where Pittsburgh-based developer Walnut Capital is planning one of the single biggest residential buildings in recent memory. And that’s just the start of the company’s long-term Oakland Crossings plan.
Walnut Capital presented its plan — adjusted to meet zoning requirements by City Council — at a community Zoom meeting on Monday evening. The Shadyside developer and Downtown-based architecture firm Strada depicted a massive structure, anchored by a street-level grocery store — something Oakland has been lacking for a long time. The brick-clad 10-story building includes 426 apartments and 438 underground parking spaces.
While it’s fairly typical of current construction trends from an architectural standpoint, the project will definitely change the urban fabric of Oakland.
“We have this expression: ‘sense of place,’ from an urban planning perspective,” says Walnut Capital CEO Todd Reidbord. “That’s somewhere you feel comfortable hanging around. Schenley Plaza is the perfect example. Remember when it used to be a parking lot? Create this beautiful park and you can have a restaurant, you have fairs, you have benches, gardens, food kiosks — and that is a place where people want to be.
“There’s this part of Oakland around the Magee [Women’s] Hospital and the Boulevard of the Allies that doesn’t have any sense of place. Why would you ever go there to hang out? There’s nothing there,” adds Reidbord. “So when you look at the drawings and renderings, you’ll see large, wide sidewalks, trees, furniture where you can sit and eat a sandwich, a little park on Louisa Street and a terrace overlooking a park outside the [planned] restaurants — places that you would feel comfortable walking and hanging out.”
The building is so big that it will contain 8,000 square feet of retail space, in addition to the 30,000-square-foot grocery store (operator yet to be determined).
The most unusual thing about the development is perhaps that it’s not really intended for students, unlike much of the surrounding area.
“It’s for working people,” says Reidbord. “There are some 100,000 people a day who come into Oakland. … And if you look at similar communities with universities at their heart around the country, you find that those are some of the most desirable neighborhoods.”
The apartments will be market-rate, and with completion at least three years out, it’s hard to say what that will be. However, 10% are earmarked as “affordable” housing, which was a major objective of the community.
Though plenty of Oakland residents have expressed reservations (and often outright opposition) about traffic, obstructed views and parking, Walnut Capital has taken more than a year to garner support for the project.
“Remember, we had an eight-to-one City Council vote (for a zoning adjustment) for it. We have the support of the Gainey administration. … The local businesses, universities and medical centers already supported this project.”
The new zoning proposal limits the height to 65 feet. However, the developer can add “bonus height” by earning “bonus points” for items such as energy efficiency, hiring underrepresented groups for the operation of the building for the first 10 years, and for the grocery store.
“If everything goes well, we expect to be before the Planning Commission in September, which means we can break ground sometime in the late first quarter of next year, so maybe February, March,” says Reidbord.