Compromises at Alameda Marina

After facing heavy opposition, the plan to redevelop the 44-acre site will include housing and boating facilities, earning approval from all sides.


Rendering courtesy of Bay West Development

Rarely is there a development project in Alameda that doesn’t face opposition. And a proposal to redevelop the Alameda Marina was no exception.

Three years ago, when the project was first proposed, it was heavily criticized for what some called a “scorched earth” plan — razing historic World War II buildings, eliminating the working boatyard along with some 80 maritime-related businesses, and replacing it all with housing.

Now, after dozens of public meetings, major modifications, and concessions to appease all, the master plan was approved unanimously by the Alameda City Council in July. The development will keep many of the historic buildings at the Clement Avenue site, restore the crumbling sea wall, and retain the working boatyard — all while still adding 760 units of housing, commercial maritime space, public access to the waterfront, and more. The project will likely break ground late next year, proceeding in phases during the next decade and a half.

And, amazingly, almost everyone’s on board: the developer, Bay West Development; Pacific Shops Inc., which owns the majority of the 44-acre property; city planners; even a group of activists organized to defend the marina, its historic buildings, and working-waterfront atmosphere.

“We really feel like everybody won on this,” said Alameda resident Nancy Hird, a member of Save Alameda’s Working Waterfront, or SAWW. “The developer gets to develop his 760 housing units. The seawall will be repaired, which is a big deal. We were able to save some of the buildings. The city is going to do a nationwide search for a new boatyard operator.

“I feel like we saved jobs, we saved the businesses, and the 250 jobs that are there,” she continued.

The aging marina at 1815 Clement Ave. along the Oakland/Alameda Estuary has been a vital part of the Island’s maritime heritage, but has long been in drastic need of an overhaul. The 70-year-old sea wall has decayed, and many of the commercial buildings — erected in the 1940s to support ship building during the war effort — are in disrepair.

Unless you’re a boater or maritime craftsperson, you may never have seen the Alameda Marina. The vehicle entrance is off Clement near Schiller Street. Some of its buildings back up to the street, blocking the view of the marina itself. Seen from the estuary side is a large warehouse with “Alameda Marina” painted in large letters at the top. There are dozens of boats in drydock and others afloat, docked in more than 500 slips. Forklifts cruise around the parking lots. Businesses mostly serve Bay Area boaters with vessel maintenance, engine installation, canvas repair, and more.

It’s not a glamorous complex, but all that will soon change.

“We’re creating a new waterfront community with housing, jobs, a water-life park, and a fully functioning working marina to dock, service, and repair boats,” said Sean Murphy, project lead for Bay West. “By extending the Bay Trail with a bike/pedestrian path, we will open up about four acres of open space along the Oakland/Alameda Estuary for the first time for the public to enjoy.”

The plan maintains a 16.4-acre maritime commercial core with a $57 million investment in infrastructure; 250,000 square feet of maritime commercial space; upgrades to the existing shoreline breakwaters, bulkheads, and piers; and restoring 11 existing buildings. Plans also call for the addition of several floating classrooms known as “ServiceShips” — vessels used during the 2013 America’s Cup races intended to expand recreation and education opportunities along the shore.

None of this was included in the original plan, and city officials were not fans at first, though they agreed more housing was needed on the Island. Long limited by a ban on new multiunit housing, Alameda is currently undergoing a building explosion along its waterfront, including an 800-unit development at Alameda Point and a nearly 600-unit proposal along the Oakland Estuary.

“When [the Alameda Marina project] was first proposed, I was skeptical that [Bay West] could fulfill what’s required of this project without just knocking the whole thing down,” said David Mitchell, president of the city’s planning board. “But we really pushed hard to keep the marina core with as much working boatyard space as possible. We wanted to retain as many small businesses to support the marina. We wanted dry dock storage, and a boat hoist still accessible.”

Yet Bay West was able to meet the city’s demands. “We were kind of surprised,” Mitchell said. “Plus, they’re providing a nice mix of condos, townhomes, and apartments, better accessibility to the water for everyone, roadway and utility improvements. I think it will be a really state-of-the-art functioning marina.”

Still, there are still lingering concerns. Some worry about rents rising for the businesses that remain. And Hird isn’t a fan of the housing or the traffic that will go with it, but said, “there wasn’t much we could do about that part.” City officials plan to promote the use of ferries and bus systems.

Another issue is the boatyard itself. Svendsen’s Boat Works, which had operated the boatyard in the marina for many years, was acquired in 2016 by Alameda’s Bay Maritime Corp. and relocated to Richmond earlier this year. So a new operator needs to be put in place.

And some longtime businesses at the marina feel they were pushed out. Liz Taylor, owner of DOER Marine, which develops remotely operated technology for undersea exploration and research, had been in the Alameda Marina almost 20 years, but could not negotiate a long-term lease with Pacific Shops, which manages the rentals. (Read more about DOER Marine in this issue on page 30.) The conflict ended last fall when DOER moved out of the marina to share a building at Alameda Point. She’s sad to see the bustling boatyard area change.

“Alameda’s been such a maritime-rich community,” Taylor said. “Change happens, and we all have to come to grips with that.”