Oakland to consider new set of plans — and a second chance — for proposed Museum of Jazz & Art

The team behind the proposed Museum of Jazz & Art in Oakland has returned to the city with new plans after failing to secure approvals for the project by the Dec. 31 deadline. 

Allen Architectural Engineers unveiled the revised plans May 19, proposing a 90,000-square-foot museum at 1310 Oak St., a publicly owned 0.75-acre site adjacent to Oakland’s Lake Merritt. The original plan called for a 70,000-square-foot structure.

The new plan would incorporate a larger portion of the historic Fire Alarm Building, an existing historic 20th century building on the site, into the project.

The museum was first formally proposed in the summer of 2021, roughly a year and a half after Oakland City Council voted unanimously to enter negotiations with MoJA for 1310 Oak St. David Allen, founder of Allen Architectural Engineers, is the president and executive director of MoJA.

Though the museum’s proposed footprint has expanded some 20,000 square feet, the concept remains the same: Allen wants to build a public-facing museum with community and educational programming, restaurant space, a national jazz hall of fame and a performance space. 

The May 19 proposal represents a second shot at the project for AAE, which was previously “unable to secure planning approvals” that would have allowed it to begin negotiating with Oakland for a long-term ground lease, according to city documents.

The city’s exclusive negotiating agreement with AAE expired Dec. 31. Legislation to retroactively extend the negotiating by 18 months is currently making its way through city bodies, including the Community & Economic Development Committee, which is scheduled to make a recommendation to Oakland’s City Council regarding the extension at a hearing Tuesday. 

If approved, AAE would have until June 2024 to secure necessary city approvals and negotiate the terms of a long-term ground lease at 1310 Oak St. given it meets certain performance milestones along the way.

AAE did not respond to request for comment. 

Allen, an East Oakland native, has been working to find a home for MoJA for at least a decade; his proposal to make 1310 Oak St. the museum’s new home garnered unanimous support from Oakland City Council in 2019. Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who introduced the resolution to begin negotiations with MoJA, said at the time the museum was a chance for Oakland to preserve its culture and history. 

“For six years, MOJA has worked with the city and two supportive mayoral administrations to find a home in Oakland. If we don’t act now, Oakland will lose this important opportunity,” Bas said in a statement issued in the fall of 2019. 

Bas’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

AAE’s previous proposal 1310 Oak St. failed to take into account regulations that require the preservation of 50% of the existing exterior of the Fire Alarm Building, which was completed in 1911. The original proposal would have preserved less than 20%, according to city documents. AAE also did not account for height limits.

Redevelopment of the Fire Alarm Building would also require the city of Oakland to reroute city and county fiber-optic internet infrastructure that currently runs through the building. The cost of doing so has yet to be calculated by the city, according to staff reports.

City staff, which have recommended approving the extension of the negotiating period with AAE, wrote in a report that AAE had committed to resubmitting a project that addresses the issues raised by the city. It has until July 21 to do so.

Oakland began eyeing 1310 Oak St. in the late 1990s, when its first thought was to offer the property up for redevelopment into high-rise residential development that would have necessitated the demolition of the Fire Alarm Building. That effort was upended by subsequent outcry from Oakland residents and opposition from Alameda County. 

AAE first approached Oakland with the idea of leasing the site and redeveloping it as a museum in early 2018. It was estimated to cost $90 million in December 2020, when the museum announced the appointment of a chief operating officer and a chief experience officer.


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