After Years Of Delay, 24-Story Tower Rises From Downtown Pit

Earlier this year, an Oakland developer resumed construction on a planned 24-story office tower, finally beginning to fill in a pit that had been left empty in downtown Oakland for nearly a decade.

The 601 City Center project, located at 12th and Jefferson Streets next to Lafayette Square, is now slated for completion early in 2019. The 24-story, LEED Gold tower will have about 600,000 square feet of office space and 9,500 square feet of street-level restaurant and retail space.

The construction site at 12th & Jefferson. | Photo: Scott Morris/Hoodline

Planning for the project dates back decades. An affiliate of Shorenstein Properties LLC started construction in October 2008 but, after partially excavating the site and completing environmental cleanup, suspended work two months later. According to city records, the company cited the recession and rising vacancies in office real estate.

As the project languished in 2015, the developer told city officials it needed to sign up an anchor tenant before moving forward. A spokesperson for Shorenstein did not return a request for an interview.

In March, San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California announced that it would relocate its headquarters to the building, renting about 200,000 square feet of office space for 1,200 employees. 

The company said moving to Oakland would end up saving it $26 million over the course of its lease. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told NBC Bay Area that two-thirds of those employees already live in the East Bay.

"This is going to improve their quality of life, lessen their commutes, make their environmental footprint less, and add to the vitality of downtown Oakland," Schaaf said. 

A rendering of the planned building. | Via KSH Architects

The city has sought to develop the land since executing a development for the 12-block area around the project site in 1970. It was assigned to Shorenstein in 1996, and the current plan is very similar to the one Shorenstein was pursuing at the time.

The Oakland Redevelopment Agency sold the property to Shorenstein’s affiliate in 2007. At the time, it was being used as a parking lot.

Since construction halted in 2008, it’s been a pit in the middle of downtown, surrounded on all sides by a chain-link fence covered in plywood with a few decorative murals.

Once completed, there will be two public plazas outside the tower—one at Jefferson and 12th Streets, and another at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 11th Street that serves the two entrances to the office lobby. There are plans for 26 new street trees and 14 new trees in the west plaza.

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