About 75 years ago, Richmond’s downtown corridor – specifically Macdonald Avenue – was one of the hottest spots in the Bay Area, having benefiting from the population boom sparked by the WWII-era shipbuilding activities along the city’s waterfront.
In more recent decades, however, the downtown has struggled to maintain anything near that level of vibrancy – but that is about to change, according to Mayor Tom Butt.
Inside the vacant, 10,000-square-foot ground floor space of the Richmond BART parking garage at 17th Street and Macdonald Avenue on Tuesday, a groundbreaking was held for a transformational downtown project called the Richmond Business Hub.
The hub will soon house the business incubator CoBiz Richmond, one of several economic investment projects funded by Chevron’s $10 million eQuip Richmond, as well as Red Bay Coffee and Locol food restaurant. The coffee and restaurant will operate out of hip shipping containers within a uniquely designed space, organizers said.
The project lays down a welcome mat for an even larger mixed-use development proposal for the downtown corridor. The Richmond Business Hub’s developer, SAA/EVI Development, is in final negotiations on a project adding nearly 400 housing units and 60,000 square feet of retail to vacant land at 12th Street and Macdonald Avenue.
East Coaster Ernst Valery of SAA/EVI Development has been working with many local leaders on the business hub, including Amanda Elliott, executive director of the Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI), Janet Johnson, the city of Richmond’s economic development director, and Chevron community engagement manager Andrea Bailey.
Johnson, who helped establish RMSI nearly 20 years ago as part of an effort to return vibrancy to downtown, said the Richmond Business Hub will benefit from the 8,000 commuters who use Richmond BART daily, as well as neighbors and other community businesses.
“If you’re in the retail business, where else would you want to be?” Butt said in reference to the hub’s closeness to BART.
City Manager Bill Lindsay said efforts to revitalize downtown started years ago, while Mayor Butt was on the council. The recession got in the way, and what has been sorely needed since is a series of investments to spark more investments aimed at bringing people, more businesses and ultimately housing to the corridor, he said.
A key investment was made by Chevron through its seven-year-old eQuip Richmond initiative, a $10 million effort to make strategic investments toward projects that “help move the needle on community-wide metrics,” said Bailey.
Bailey said she’s grateful to Elliott and Valery for finding an ideal space to launch CoBiz Richmond, which will be equipped to serve the needs of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the freelance creative workforce in Richmond, North Richmond, and surrounding areas.
“This project is very near and dear to my heart,” Bailey said. “We wanted to help create an environment of entrepreneurship, of self-sufficiency for families and to help bring in businesses and reinvigorate existing businesses. It’s going to be a beautiful place for local businesses, cultural events and more.”
Chevron’s eQuip initiative has also funded the creation of the Construction Resource Center in Richmond, which is working to prepare local residents, contractors and construction companies for future economic development projects in the region, including the 12th Street mixed-use development.
It has also funded the launch of Pogo Park Products, a company staffed entirely by Iron Triangle residents that started as a nonprofit that designs and builds local parks while providing career skills to local residents.