Located on 1.2 acres in Eastmont, Liberation Park has hosted an outdoor market and other community events. Credit: Amir Aziz

For more than a year, the triangular shaped 1.2 acre lot at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and 73rd Avenue has been used as a community hub, a place where East Oakland residents can shop at the Akoma Outdoor Market, pick up free meals and personal protective equipment, get a COVID-19 test, or roller skate and catch an outdoor movie. 

Known as “Liberation Park,” the Eastmont gathering place may soon undergo a more permanent transformation. 

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an exclusive negotiation agreement with a developer affiliated with the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative, a collaboration of local nonprofits that established and manage Liberation Park. 

Over the next 18 months, the city will negotiate with members of the Black Cultural Zone and its partners, Community Arts Stabilization Trust and Curtis Development, on a long-term lease of the city-owned property. 

From 1916 to 1963 the land was part of a Chevrolet assembly plant. The now defunct Oakland Redevelopment Agency purchased the property for about $2.2 million from the Eastmont Town Center owners in 2008. 

Since then, the city entertained several mixed-use and commercial development proposals, from a Merritt College satellite campus, to an education center and new public library, to a retail center anchored by Starbucks and classrooms for job-skills training. However, none of the projects came to fruition.

Temporary structures and outdoor space at Liberation Park would be replaced by a residential building and food hall along with other amenities under a proposal outlined this week. Credit: Amir Aziz

Since April 2020, the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative has had a license to operate on the property, with a vision of creating a development for existing East Oakland residents and protecting the neighborhood from gentrification. 

The development proposal calls for constructing a commercial building and a residential building, the Liberation Park Market Hall and Residences. Approximately 15,000 square feet in size, the ground floor of the two-story commercial building would feature a food hall similar to Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, a community food pantry, indoor and outdoor dining, theater and cultural performance space as well as retail, wellness stations, farm stands and food carts, according to plans presented to City Council on Tuesday. 

Co-working spaces, a financial and technical assistance hub and classroom and office space are planned for the second floor. A garden and outdoor events space would be on the roof. 

Developers also expect to create 45 permanent jobs and provide housing for an estimated 340 residents, in a five-story residential building. The upper three floors would include 100 of the proposed 120 affordable units, above a second floor containing 20 live-work apartments. Parking would be buried below the buildings. 

The developers estimate the project’s price tag at $100 million—$12 million to construct the commercial building, and $88 million to develop the residential structure. 

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilmembers Carroll Fife, Treva Reid and Loren Taylor praised the proposal. 

Taylor, whose council district includes the Liberation Park property, said the Eastmont neighborhood has long lacked resources. “In District 6, we don’t have a single bank, we don’t have a chain grocery store,” Taylor said. “It’s critical to acknowledge that the Black Cultural Zone is truly collaborative.” 

Reid said there are estimates that as many as 500 businesses closed in East Oakland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The Black Cultural Zone and Liberation Park “has helped restore economic vitality in our community and we know they will remain a great steward of this place.” 

The exclusive negotiating agreement has an option to extend the negotiation period by six months. Any project at the 73rd Avenue site is subject to environmental review under CEQA and would need approvals from the Planning Commission and City Council.

Correction: The complete name of the Community Arts Stabilization Trust was not included in the original version of this story.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.