On a warm, sunny afternoon at Jack London Square, a group of musicians tuned their instruments on a temporary stage next to Miss Pearl’s Restaurant and Lounge. People arrived searching for a spot on the grass to place their blankets and portable chairs. In the crowd, a mix of seniors, young adults, couples and families with children waited for the show to begin.
Onstage, Bay Area band the Stone Foxes welcomed the audience to the 2012 fall edition of SoundWaves, an outdoor live music series on the waterfront. “It’s very nice to be joined by Jack London, who’s also sporting our merchandise,” said singer Spence Koehler, referring to the nearby Jack London statue, over which someone had placed the band’s promotional t-shirt. The band launched into a rhythmic rock song, signaling the start of the musical event.
A series of five live shows on Thursday evenings that will run until October 11, SoundWaves is one of several efforts to refashion the Jack London Square area and attract more visitors to it. The event is organized by Jack London Square Ventures (JLSV), a partnership between real estate and development companies Ellis Partners LLC and DivcoWest, that was created to redevelop, manage and attract new investments to the area. While the Port of Oakland owns the underlying land throughout the square, nearly two thirds of the commercial space is leased through JLSV.
“When I look at marketing for Jack London Square, I often think how can we tap into the community, how can we tap into Oakland and the East Bay to bring people and draw people to Oakland, bring them to Jack London Square to certify that excitement, to find that energy, to enjoy this beautiful scene, to appreciate the waterfront,” said Linda Meyer, marketing director for JLSV. Meyer also organizes other popular events on the waterfront, including Dancing Under the Stars, which features free dance lessons, and Waterfront Flicks, an outdoor movie screening session that occurs during summer evenings.
The redevelopment of Jack London Square started in 2004, when now-departed chain restaurants and shops such as T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito, The Old Spaghetti Factory and Barnes & Noble dominated the area. The plan was originally created by the Port of Oakland and real estate development company Ellis Partners, and was eventually approved by the City of Oakland.
According to Catherine Payne, who works as a planner for the City of Oakland, the redevelopment project includes “six new buildings, the renovation of a number of buildings on the site and a landscape master plan for the entire area.”
Three of the new buildings were completed by 2011. Together, they consist of almost 252,000 square feet, and about 30 percent of the space is occupied by tenants, according to Payne. Site “C” is just over 30,000 square feet, and has 33 percent of its space filled. It will house The Forge, an artisan pizza restaurant opening in early 2013. Building “F1”, known as the marketplace area, consists of almost 189,000 square feet, and 32 percent of its space is currently occupied. Building “G”, the “garage,” is located next to Amtrak Station. It is currently vacant. Some of the newest tenants of Jack London Square’s office space include solar energy provider Sungevity; Navis, a maritime logistics firm; and the Bay Area staff offices of Senator Barbara Boxer.
Other recent upgrades in the square, made by the developers, include the installation of new tables, chairs, umbrellas and benches, in addition to a new play area for children. “We are always doing improvements in terms of the physical aspect as well as the ambiance here,” said Meyer. “Anytime there is something new, it’s great, but it is a process.”
Despite of the presence of several new businesses in the waterfront area, some people still think of Jack London Square as an empty space. “There were many more things at Jack London Square years ago. Before Barnes & Noble shut down, this place was much more active. A nice hub of people used to get together there—I used to go there,” said Daniel Rose, 43, a software developer for a company located near the square.
Naser Enferadi, 54, who has been working as a waiter for over two decades at II Pescatore Restaurant, which is located at the waterfront, said he thinks the new construction at the square was unnecessary. “I don’t feel good about it. Look, what’s the point of having this building here? It’s empty!” he said as he pointed to one of the new buildings. “It used to be our parking lot. We lost a lot of our customers because they have to park blocks away from here now.”
The SoundWaves event is designed to bring some of those customers back. Just a few blocks away from II Pescatore on a recent Thursday, a couple watched their two children rhythmically clap to the rock music, while they all enjoyed a picnic in the grass.
Seated in a portable chair, Oakland resident Christiana Butterfly, 43, sipped a drink as she watched the Stone Foxes perform. “I love this area, all the changes, the different styles of restaurants. It is very eclectic,” she said. “There are more people coming out here now. The city is bringing people together.”
Barbara Covington, 59, San Leandro’s resident, came to SoundWaves accompanied by her daughter. She said that rock is not her favorite type of music, but she was convinced by the idea of watching a live band’s performance in the waterfront. “I love live music, and it’s free!” she said. “I’ll be back next Thursday, you can count on that.”
SoundWaves continues this Thursday with pop music by Young Digerati, from 5:30 to 7:30pm on the waterfront of Jack London Square. The rest of the 2012 fall lineup includes performances by Joe Bagale (R&B/Soul) on September 27, and African Showboys (West African Percussion) in October. The final performance, by Gaucho (Gypsy Jazz), will be on October 11.
For more information about SoundWaves and all other cultural events held at Jack London Square, visit: www.jacklondonsquare.com