OAKLAND -- Dimond District residents hope the latest bidding process will bring a family-friendly restaurant to its long-closed firehouse on Champion Street, but they will have to wait at least a year to enjoy the new neighborhood eatery, according to Oakland officials.
Members of the Dimond Improvement Association met April 2 to discuss the firehouse, approve a 15-member board and catch up on news regarding the other property issues in the area.
"The owners of one Oakland-owned restaurant are set to negotiate in earnest in May, so the firehouse property could be transferred potentially in late spring or early summer of 2015 and perhaps open its doors as early as September of 2015," said Keira Williams, a retail specialist with the city's economic and workforce development efforts, who spoke at the meeting.
Williams stressed the restaurant was family-oriented, something that the Dimond community members had requested at a meeting early last year. She also described the appeal of another business involved in the bidding process, which, although it is not a restaurant, runs an apprentice program.
The firehouse was first put up for sale through a state-run process, said Gregory Hunter, deputy director of the city's office of neighborhood investment, in an interview.
"But the community and City Council wanted more control over the property's economic development," he explained.
Next, the city requested proposals and received 11 responses, including one from Luka's Taproom, community members said.
"We thought we didn't have a well-rounded response from restaurant operators," Hunter said, referring to the concern that Dimond residents wanted a family-style option. So, the city conducted another round of proposal gathering.
"The community should be really pleased" with the restaurant now considered to be the top bidder, according to Hunter. "We feel we've gotten the process right at this point."
Complex arrangements also are involved with property at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Dimond Avenue, which includes a long-shuttered Blockbuster Video store.
"From what we understand, the property is in mediation," said Stan Dodson, outgoing Dimond Improvement Association board member. "And, we've kept blight in the area under control."
Before Blockbuster, a dry cleaner using perchloroethylene (or PCE) operated on the land from 1965 to 1986, said Dimond resident and environmental consultant Carrie Campbell. PCE contaminated the soil and groundwater -- but not the Sausal Creek, Campbell said.
The state water board, however, considers groundwater to be a "potential source of drinking water," and therefore the area must be thoroughly cleaned up, she said.
After the Blockbuster building is torn down, concrete and other debris will need to be removed. But commercial development can take place while soil in the area is being freed of PCE contamination, an estimated $2 million cleanup effort that may be spread out over 10 to 15 years.
"As soon as the lawsuit is resolved between the past and current property owners, we can get the area cleaned up and revitalize this part of the neighborhood," Dodson said. "This is where we could put some restaurants, many of which are looking for retail space, and that really could help the community."