The Warriors left Oakland years ago. Now, the Coliseum neighborhood finally is showing signs of life

It would be understandable if East Oakland resident Frederick Simon was a tad bitter about the 2019 departure of his Golden State Warriors.

Simon, who lives near the Oakland Coliseum, has spent much of his working life at the two venues. He’s cooked and worked security at the Coliseum and set up countless events as a stagehand at Oakland Arena.

But like other residents who live near the Coliseum, Simon said he had no choice but to accept the fact that the big-money professional sports teams don’t seem to want to call East Oakland home — the Raiders left the area for Las Vegas in 2020.

“I’d follow the Warriors anywhere,” he said. “They could move to St. Louis and I’d still be with them.”

In a city where billions of dollars of investment has transformed enclaves from Brooklyn Basin to Uptown to Jack London Square, it can seem like East Oakland’s Coliseum neighborhood is a place left behind. Step off at the BART station and walk several blocks in any direction, and you won’t find a bank, coffee shop, laundromat, bar, nail salon, gym or hairdresser.

Despite a stadium that holds 62,000 people and a 20,000-seat arena, the only restaurant in the neighborhood, Doug’s BBQ, has been shuttered for years.

While the departure of the two teams has been a blow to Oakland’s economy — and it seems that the A’s could be the next to relocate — the grim news has forced the city to focus on an alternative future for the Coliseum neighborhood that is more about housing than home runs or 3-pointers.

Early this year, Resources For Community Development opened an affordable 59-unit housing development on Hawley Street, on the site of a former paint warehouse across from the Coliseum BART Station parking lot. A block away, UrbanCore completed a 110-unit apartment building, called Coliseum Connections, half of which is market rate and half targeting low-income families.

And Related Cos. spent $199 million to renovate the 567-unit Coliseum Gardens, a public housing complex that was renamed Lion Creek Crossing.

At the Dallaq Market, the only retail establishment within walking distance of the Coliseum, owners Akram and Tizta Dallaq keep a jar full of quarters labeled “change for the kids.” The store opened eight years ago in what had been a dance studio in the public housing complex.

“We are a neighborhood store — the only one,” said Akram Dallaq. “No kid can leave here sad. Every kid gets something even if they have no money.”

A view of the surrounding Coliseum neighborhood, as seen from the new Coliseum Place housing development in Oakland.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

The neighborhood around the Oakland Coliseum seemed on the rise eight years ago when the Dallaqs opened their shop. At the time, there were still three professional sports teams in the area. The city of Oakland was putting final touches on a plan for a 110-acre development to rise around the Coliseum. With thousands of housing units, a hotel, office buildings and a pedestrian-friendly San Leandro Boulevard lined with stores, the 2015 plan promised to “transform what is currently one of the largest under-developed, inner-urban, transit-served redevelopment opportunities in California.”

Another plan for a transit village on BART-owned parking lots called for 600 apartments.

Today, as the Warriors continue their first NBA title run since relocating to San Francisco, many of those Coliseum dreams seem up in the air. The plan for 600 units on a BART parking lot was scaled back to 110. After seven years, the 2015 plan is still slowly winding its way through the approval process. At the earliest it will be approved in summer of 2024.

“There were a lot of big plans and promises,” Dallaq said. “It’s just talking. They talk and talk and then when nothing happens they blame the inner city.”

Yet, despite the lack of big-money investment, new housing has popped up in the Coliseum neighborhood for the first time since the public housing opened in the 1960s. And the housing has no shortage of takers: The Coliseum Place development, which opened in February, was flooded with 3,800 applications for 59 apartments. It is largely made up of family-size two- and three-bedroom units.

Antoinette Venable, property manager of Coliseum Place, gives a tour of the new development in Oakland's Coliseum neighborhood.

Antoinette Venable, property manager of Coliseum Place, gives a tour of the new development in Oakland’s Coliseum neighborhood.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

From his second-floor window, Coliseum Place resident Michael Reed looks across at the Coliseum Station: the elevated tracks, the mostly empty BART commuter parking lot. He and his three kids lament that they didn’t arrive soon enough to be neighbors with the Warriors.

Reed, a single dad who works as a technician for a bike share program, said he is grateful to have a new apartment for his kids, but he doesn’t let them play outside because motorists tend to speed down 71st Street.

“It was an industrial area so maybe that was OK, but now you’ve got people living here,” he said.

And while having BART across the street makes it easy to get around, the lack of shopping can be a challenge.

“As far as finding a grocery with fresh produce — there is not much. I usually go to the Safeway in San Leandro,” he said. “Even the Walmart is gone — it’s a big empty parking lot now.”

Around the corner on 71st Avenue is the 110-unit Coliseum Connections, the area’s only mixed-income housing development, where 50% of the units are market rate and 50% affordable. For the affordable units, a family of four would pay between $1,226 and $1,471 for a three-bedroom.

UrbanCore CEO Michael Johnson said the project filled up quickly when it opened in 2019 but the vacancy rate rose to about 10% when COVID hit, with about 15% of the market-rate units empty and 5% of the affordable apartments open.

“It has made operations of the property very challenging,” Johnson said.

Originally, Johnson had planned to build 600 units on BART parking lots. While he said he would like to build more housing there, at the moment the economics don’t work without public subsidies.

“The cost to build exceeds what you can generate in terms of market-rate rents,” he said. “Developers who have opportunities throughout the Bay Area are not looking at East Oakland.”

The developer selected to refurbish 110 acres of land around the Coliseum, the African American Sports & Entertainment Group, is currently hammering out an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city. What that plan will look like is still to be determined, but it will have “the proper balance of housing and jobs creation,” said Ray Bobbitt, who grew up in East Oakland and is a partner with the development group.

“The community in East Oakland is not focused on the broken promises of professional sports teams,” Bobbitt said. “They are focused on jobs, housing and education.”

Carolyn Bookhart, development director for Resources For Community Development, said the fact that the property was across from BART “was a big selling point for us.” She said, if anything, the loss of the sports teams will allow the city to focus on transit-oriented housing. “The plan needs to be re-envisioned because things have changed around the sports venues, but there is a ton of opportunities.”

Larry Gallegos, program manager for the Economic & Workforce Development Department, said the agreement with Bobbitt’s group should be completed this summer. Once that is finalized, the developer will have two years to obtain approvals. He said the fact that the Coliseum may be part of professional sports teams is something that has to be considered, although he is hopeful that the WNBA may be part of future development.

“We looked at all the possible scenarios — one team, two teams, three teams and no teams,” he said. “If we end up with no teams on the site it will be fully optimized for other uses.”

Meanwhile, at their market, the Dallaqs say the departure of the Raiders and Warriors has cut business by about 20%.

“We wish they were still here — but it happens,” Dallaq said. “They are gone and not coming back.”

JK Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @sfjkdineen

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