Major Mall Makeover for South Shore Center
Developer Jamestown plans to build 1,215 residential units at the South Shore Center in a move that reflects massive and ongoing lifestyle shifts in the Bay Area and beyond.
Photo courtesy Jamestown LP
For decades, South Shore Center has faithfully served Alameda Island as an open-air shopping mall and a community-gathering space. Built in the 1950s, the mall has benefitted over the years from its central location, an abundance of parking, a mix of nationally renowned chains and restaurants, an enviable proximity to the beach, and stellar views of the San Francisco shoreline and the bay. But in recent years, as the trend toward online shopping accelerates, retail stores are struggling to stay afloat, and South Shore is no exception: In recent years, a string of tenants at the 46-acre mall have filed for bankruptcy, including Beverly’s Fabrics, Charming Charlie, Crazy 8, PayLess Shoe Source, and Radio Shack. And now, Jamestown LP, the real estate management company that bought the center in 2011, is proposing gradual but tectonic shifts in how land is used at the mall. These shifts include replacing under-utilized space at the mall with up to 1,215 residential units, adding more local restaurants to the remaining mix of stores, and reconnecting the mall to the shoreline.
But while some residents view Jamestown’s proposal as an inventive response that not only addresses these massive changes but also targets the island’s housing crisis, others fear the plan’s proposed density will destroy the center’s charm, further congest an already crowded island, and put unsustainable pressure on the island’s infrastructure.
Remy Monteko, Jamestown’s vice president of asset management, said she has received plenty of feedback from residents, since May 2019, when Jamestown first submitted its development amendment plan to the city. “We really are at the beginning of the process, and we will listen and study everything,” Monteko told a dozen residents during a recent community office hours session at the mall. “Brick and mortar is in a state of evolution, but the plan is to consolidate retail so it can be successful, not to kick out existing tenants,” Monteko continued, as she assured residents that the mall’s core of grocery stores and restaurants would remain.
Big box stores are currently facing an uphill climb, because they carry commodity products that can be bought online, Monteko said, but Jamestown’s plan is to retain Ross, Kohl’s and TJMaxx as South Shore tenants — at least for now. “If they are healthy, we’ll keep them,” she said. “But if they go, the plan is to convert the space to multifamily housing in phases.
During Phase 1 of Jamestown’s proposed redevelopment, Big 5, Sushi House, the Shoreline Car Wash, and Pagano’s would be replaced by two eight-story apartment buildings along the shoreline, creating an estimated 350 residential units by 2025. In Phase 2, the strip mall near Otis and Willow that houses Southshore Cafe would be replaced with 79 assisted living units by 2027; and during phases three through six, Jamestown would gradually convert failing big box stores into seven residential buildings for a total of 786 residential units by 2041.
If all six phases of Jamestown’s proposal are completed, then retail at South Shore would be reduced by about one third (from 570,000 square feet to 389,000 square feet) and the center’s street grid would be changed, Monteko said. “But there would still be 400,000 square feet of retail,” she added. By comparison, Ghirardelli Square, which Jamestown recently redeveloped, only has 100,000 square feet of retail.
“Early on, Jamestown recognized food halls as place-making tools,” Monteko said, referring to the way her company successfully redeveloped Ponce City Market in Atlanta and Chelsea Market in New York. And now Jamestown is focusing on replacing South Shore’s current layout, which Monteko described as “an island of shopping within a sea of parking,” with a model centered on food and services, including entertainment, that have smaller footprints.
Currently, parking at the mall is plentiful, and Monteko said that if all six phases were completed, South Shore would have 3,655 spaces — an increase of 1,242 from its current total of 2,413 spaces. But some spots would be reserved for residential units, meaning parking would shrink from a current ratio of one space per 249 square feet of retail to one space per 275 square feet, if all six phases are completed. “So there will be less spaces, but there will also be less people,” Monteko said. “People are using cars less and getting to places differently these days.”
Alameda Planning director Andrew Thomas said Jamestown’s proposal doesn’t really surprise the city, given the demise of shopping centers that planners are observing, nationally and locally. Thomas acknowledged that the plan may well come as a shock to residents, but he stressed that the proposed changes would happen gradually. “The prospect of a private property owner building 1,200-plus units on a 46-acre site in east Alameda is big and sounds a little scary, but Jamestown is taking about making these changes over 15 or 20 years,” Thomas said. “It’s not something you build tomorrow.”
Thomas clarified that though South Shore is zoned commercial, it also allows housing, “provided it’s built above the retail.” Jamestown is legally able to propose 1,215 residential units on its 46-acre property, Thomas explained, by combining city zoning, which requires 15 percent affordable housing, with a state law that gives a density bonus to developers who build 16 percent affordable, as Jamestown is proposing.
But while many Alamedans support building more housing, some residents are balking at the density of Jamestown’s proposal. Sherry Anderegg said she accepts the need for more housing in Alameda but is upset at Jamestown’s plan to build two eight-story towers along the shoreline. “It’s more than double what we have along the waterfront,” Anderegg said, voicing concerns about impacts on the island’s sewer and storm drains. Local resident D.J Agnew was outraged at the prospect of losing a community shopping center. “It’s just a money-making scheme,” Agnew said, noting that remaining retail would be hemmed in. “It’s OK, if they do these things in commercial areas like Ghirardelli Square, but don’t take a community center and gut it.” And Eden Lotivio cited the Alameda school board’s 2017 decision to shutter Lum Elementary, which lies to the west of the Center on Otis Drive, as the basis for her concern that Jamestown was planning to build high-rises on landfill that could prove seismically unstable during an earthquake. But real estate agent and former Alameda school board member Anne McKereghan rebutted the notion that Lum’s closure means high-rises are seismically unsafe at South Shore. “When Lum was built, engineers provided only a single level of foundation,” McKereghan said, explaining that’s today’s building code requires developers to build deeper foundations.
Meanwhile, Monteko continues to seek to reassure the community that Jamestown’s proposal isn’t a done deal. ‘There are legitimate concerns that need to be studied and addressed,” she said. “But ultimately, we’re trying to be a place where young people can be born and old people can age.”
Jamestown’s application can be viewed at SouthshoreNeighborhood.com. The public has the next 12 months to provide feedback to the city, which plans to hold public scoping sessions and will prepare technical studies as well as a draft environmental impact report, or EIR, this fall. Jamestown estimates that the final EIR will be published in November 2020.