Oakland to breathe life into empty convention center

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Saturday, May 23, 2015
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The Oakland City Council will soon decide the fate of the empty, 114-year-old Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and Civic Auditorium.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Oakland City Council will soon decide the fate of an East Bay landmark.

The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and civic auditorium has been sitting empty for a decade. In the coming weeks, city leaders will look for new ways to breathe new life into the parkside gem.

The imposing 114-year-old building sits empty at the edge of a revitalized Lake Merritt. To cut costs, city officials closed the facility, fencing it off from visitors and locking the gate on generations of memories.

Urban planner Kelly Kahn is overseeing the revitalization of this building for the city.

"It's actually one of the city's most important historic landmarks," Kahn said. "There's people in this community that graduated from high school here, who saw their first rock concert here, or went to their first political rally here."

Opened in 1915, it was celebrated as an engineering marvel. The ornate exterior served as a gateway to a lavish 1,900-seat auditorium, an even larger 45,000 square foot arena. A maze of empty ballrooms, event spaces, and meeting rooms fill out the rest of the 215,000-square foot building. Despite the closure, experts say the building is in relatively good condition.

"The sense now, is that the time is right to find a new user," Khan said,

The city is now working with two local developers. Whoever is chosen must restore the building and allow the public access.

"So you could have everything from roller derby, to a brewery, to artists' space, to office space, There's lost of creative ways that create revenue generating ways in this building."

City staff has been vetting two proposals that could define the future of this grand building. Their recommendations will be forwarded to the city council for review.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.