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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cafe Promises Grow Cold

Vow of Coffee and Steamed Milk Just Hot Air

by Brian Donahue

Park Avenue residents have been fooled again. An iron clad agreement between city officials and a developer for a cafe has proven not worth the paper it wasn't printed on.

It's the second time in recent years that city officials quieted neighborhood opposition in the same area by promising to deliver a coffee shop. It's also the second time developers have reneged.

As part of negotiations between city officials and San Mateo-based Prometheus Real Estate Group over a new building at 1401 Park Avenue, Emeryville Planning Director Charlie Bryant extracted the promise in part to blunt neighborhood opposition. The building, first proposed as an office building, morphed into a large condominium project after the dot-com bubble imploded. After failing to catch the speculative bubble in office space, the property's owners ended up missing the housing boom too. When the structure was finally complete, the market had collapsed and the building was converted to rentals.

During the planning period opposition sprang up, led by residents of an earlier condo project. Residents of 1500 Park Avenue and others were concerned that the new structure would partially or entirely obstruct their views of the East Bay hills. Mr Bryant succeeded in soothing the opposition by extracting promises of a street level cafe with sidewalk seating and a wireless network for what officials were billing as a burgeoning historic district.

Park Avenue residents built their case against the new building because plans exceeded the city's height and lot coverage regulations for the area according to Emeryville's zoning ordinance.

Once Prometheus agreed to a cafe, opposition was mollified and the city council gave its approval.

As it turns out, residents have been waiting in vain. Construction finally underway inside the cafe space is for an exercise room exclusively for building residents. Call it a classic 'bait and switch.'

This is the second time a cafe was promised on Park Avenue as part of a development project. Peet's Coffee agreed to add a retail coffee house as part of its agreement with the Planning Department in 1995 when the company relocated its roasting operations and corporate offices from Berkeley. Neighbors are still waiting. The planning department never got the assurances in writing. Peet's officials later admitted they never had any intention of opening up a retail store on the site.

Residents have been fooled again. Once again, the planning department failed to get a written agreement and Prometheus is under no legal obligation.

Charlie Bryant meanwhile, relayed that Prometheus blames the tanking economy for making a cafe no longer viable. One wonders if back when he was disarming opponents, Mr Bryant couldn't have made it clear that there was no written guarantee.

Of course had he done that, the residents might have renewed their opposition.


  1. Same thing happened with Age Song, only the promise was childcare--where is it and why when asked did the city and Age Song act as if it was never part of the conversation?

    There is to be a cafe there, unless that also has changed.

  2. Exercising is good for your health.

  3. Yeah, I'm hoping for more places to walk to take a break from work. If only, there was a pedestrian bridge to get us to Bay Street.

  4. I tried to open a wine bar at 1401 Park. Couldn't even get management to discuss leasing. This blog makes sense as to why I was getting the run-around. And if you look at the lease options for the other units, they are ridiculously business unfriendly. Finally relocated out of the building.

  5. Outlandish! It looks like city hall works for the developers, not us.

  6. To the person that tried to open a wine bar-

    I am chagrinned at your letter; after the city made the promises about a cafe, I would have thought they would have entertained the idea of a wine bar versus a closed-to-the-public exercise room as closer to what was promised for 1401 Park. Please contact me at I want to get to the bottom of this...I'll report on what I find. Thanks!

    Brian Donahue