A major multicultural food hall has a bold vision for Oakland

2022-08-20 04:47:32 By : Mr. Bin Ning

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Liberation Park Market Hall in East Oakland.

An ambitious food hall with a focus on local restaurants owned by Black and brown people could open in East Oakland in the coming years.

Developers from the nonprofit Black Cultural Zone Community Development Corp. plan to build a food hall and affordable housing at Liberation Park, a 1.2-acre plot of land at the corner of 73rd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, according to Carolyn Johnson, the group’s CEO. The East Oakland nonprofit has operated the city-owned land since April 2020, providing free meals and COVID-19 testing to residents as well as hosting several community events, such as the Akoma Outdoor Market, which features mostly Black and brown local vendors, and an outdoor roller-skating rink.

Similar to the popular Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, the proposed Liberation Park Market Hall will be a three-story building with food vendors and a coffee shop in a shared space with indoor and outdoor dining areas on the 10,000-square-foot ground floor.

The ground floor will also include a community food pantry, a theater and cultural performance space, farm stands, food carts, health and wellness service kiosk stations, a co-working space, a retail pavilion and a roller-skating rink, according to city documents.

The second floor would include more co-working spaces, a financial and technical assistance hub and event space, the city documents show. The rooftop is expected to have a garden, courtyard and an indoor and outdoor event space.

“We really don’t have anything like this in East Oakland,” Johnson, who was born and raised in East Oakland, told The Chronicle. “A place where we can go for all these things in one space.”

She said it was too early to know which vendors will be given a spot at the food hall, but it will likely resemble the Akoma Outdoor Market, highlighting local restaurants and retail businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color. She said community members have voiced a desire to have a diverse cuisine lineup, including soul food, Latin, Caribbean and Thai cuisine.

“It’s going to be a place where you can come for four or five different types of food … all in one space,” she said. “We are looking to really reflect the community.”

Plans to build the market hall and housing development, which would bring 120 affordable units to the area, are under way. In October 2021, the Oakland City Council voted to enter into an 18-month exclusive negotiation with the East Oakland nonprofit for a long-term lease to build the commercial and mixed-use affordable housing development. The project still needs final approval from the City Council, said Larry Gallegos, the program manager for the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department. It’s unclear when that will happen.

If the project is fully approved, Johnson said, she expects construction to begin in late 2024.

The Black Cultural Zone has long envisioned building hubs to provide housing and amplify East Oakland’s Black residents, artists and business owners while also connecting with other communities. The Liberation Park development is one of 10 hubs the group aims to build in the area.

Council Member Loren Taylor, whose district includes Liberation Park, told The Chronicle that he was “super excited” about the development potentially coming to East Oakland, which has long been considered a food desert.

“We’re not just talking about the food, we’re talking about entertainment and places for people to congregate,” he said, adding that the development is an example of what “inclusive, equitable development could and should be in Oakland and beyond.”

Jessica Flores (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jessica.flores@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jesssmflores

Jessica Flores is a reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining The Chronicle in 2021, she worked for USA Today, NPR affiliate KPCC and Curbed LA. Originally from L.A., she received her master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California and a bachelor's degree from Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles.