Groundbreaking begins for MacArthur Transit Village

via OaklandNorth.net

A giant excavator was parked in the yard of a motel near the MacArthur BART station on Monday afternoon, where dozens of people were taking pictures with the machine that may soon start tearing down the motel rooms.

The crowd, which included Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1), State Senator Don Perata and representatives of other elected officials, was celebrating the groundbreaking of the MacArthur Transit Village, a development project that will eventually transform a 7.76-acre site near the MacArthur BART station into a mixed-use area with new housing units and retail shops, along with restaurants and possibly a day care center.

The motel and its neighbor, another motel, will be replaced by a 478-space BART parking garage in the next twelve months, said Rick Holliday, board chair of BRIDGE Housing Corporation, a non-profit based in San Francisco and a major developer of the project.  “All the surface parking needs to be aggregated in the garage and then that land is available for the housing,” said Holliday.

According to the project’s website, the parking garage, which will cost about $51 million in total, is only the first step. After that, 624 new housing units, 108 of which will be affordable homes, will be created starting from 2012, along with commercial and community space. The whole project is planned to be completed in 2021.

The major goal of the “Transit Village”, according to the project’s description, is to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of four to six story buildings with ground floor stores. The BART plaza will also be updated to become a “community gathering space” with food vendors and public art. The project is also expected to “increase ridership for BART and other public transit agencies,” according to the project description.

The MacArthur BART station, served by three out of five BART lines, eight AC Transit bus routes and several bus shuttle services, is one of the busiest transit hubs in East Bay. According to BART’s statistics, nearly 16,000 people entry and exit the station on an average weekday.

“The geographical center of BART is MacArthur station, ” said Lynette Sweet, director of BART’s District 7. “And we’re going to have 624 captive households here, ready and willing to ride our system.” Although the MacArthur station will lose more than 100 parking spaces to the new garage (there are currently 600 spots), Sweet said the BART gave the green light to the project because it’s going to revitalize the community and it’s “too important to count parking spaces.”

“[The project] is going to connect West MacArthur Blvd to 51st Street and all of Telegraph Avenue will become another College Avenue,” said Brunner at the celebration. However, she recalled that more than a decade ago she wasn’t optimistic about the project which seemed to bristle with difficulties. One of the problems, Brunner said, was to unprecedentedly “marry” the two developers —BRIDGE Housing and MacGrath Properties—since one is non-profit and the other is private. Cynthia Parker, CEO of BRIDGE said that her company will develop the garage and the low-income housing while MacGrath will handle two parcels of the market-price part.

Parker said the demolition of the motels will start in about two weeks.

According to the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency, the construction will likely cause traffic delays during peak hours at several intersections nearby. But Holliday said there will be some disruption but it won’t be “as bad as you think.”

“There’s going to be a big effort to try to get bike parking,” he added. “It’ll be easy to get here.”

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