How many cities have a boarded up convention center?
I know a lot of cities in the USA are just like Oakland and have boarded up businesses, boarded up homes and abandoned properties in them. The new American Gothic includes the homeless encampment in the freeway landscaping and the mentally ill on the sidewalks. But a whole convention center?
How do we categorize this problem?
Mismanagement and neglect would be a good category. That would lump the convention center in with the rotting Victorian mansions, concessions stands and bathrooms in our parks. Has anyone from the public seen the inside recently? Is it OK? It may not be given the way the old gymnasium in North Oakland was allowed to rot with roof leakage so badly that a million dollar wooden floor is now worthless. I am very serious, when was the last time that building was inspected or open to a press visit? This building belongs to us, our city is known for neglect. IS IT OK?
Under and miss utilization would be another good category. Back when the Kaiser Center was ostensibly open it was never really getting the attention and bookings it needed. This is from the same city government that ropes off downtown and builds fences so that it can charge the public for its Art and Soul Festival but cannot find any events for a major convention center on a lake with a Museum, Junior College and a BART station for direct neighbors. What I was told by those “in the know” at the time of the closure was that we were going to focus on the Fox Theater. Is that development? Build one multimillion dollar facility while we throw another away?
Fiscal fiasco should also be considered as a category. Who owns the Kaiser Convention Center now? Who could sell it? Who could rent it out? During the circus that passed for a budget debate 6 months ago we “sold” the building from the City to “Redevelopment”. The building was used as collateral for some loans that got “transferred to the City Hall building”. That would mean if we did not pay the debts, we would have to sell City Hall to pay it! Of course that NEVER happens, but jeez. A lot of things that “never happen” have been happening in state, county and city budgeting recently. Did they really go through with that plan or was it just still a plan when the State of California shut down the redevelopment agencies? If they did, who owns the building now? There is supposed to be a “successor agency” if I understand it right. Who is that?
Selling a major asset to pay day-to-day bills is not a secure budget plan. In fact it is about the worst budget plan. Things like this make me want to raise the bar on the Council selling off public property. It just should not be so easy to do.
So now we have a multimillion dollar, historical convention center boarded up in the middle of our city. The Occupy protestors who wanted to “Occupy” it would have in effect opened it back up. We all missed a golden opportunity in a cloud of stubbornness and teargas. All that Occupy energy could help our city at the Kaiser Convention Center.
The public should insist that the building be put back into use. If civic groups can turn it into some kind of civic center and pay the utilities, then the city should allow them to do it. Right now it is just a scandal.
One of the things that the occupy encampment showed was how much energy was available for this kind of civic center activity. That little encampment was feeding and housing homeless people. They had a free health clinic. There was a series of art programs. There was a children’s village. There were library groups, free school, theater etc. And the list goes on and on from a media center to community gardens.
Our convention center is a vacant property. It needs an occupant and we have a volunteer.