A Grocery Store In West Oakland’s Food Desert Finally Finds A Home

How about a new synonym for the word “persistence”: Brahm Ahmadi?

Ahmadi recently closed on a 16,000-square-foot property to be the site of a full-service grocery store in the economically challenged area of West Oakland, CA CA +0.40%. But thanks to everything from trouble finding investors to skyrocketing real estate prices, the effort to build such an enterprise took him close to 14 years to achieve.

People’s Community Market Will Bring Fresh Food to West Oakland

It’s been a long journey for People’s Community Market and its founder Brahm Ahmadi. Over the span of almost a decade, the community organizer has been working toward opening a fresh food market in West Oakland, in a neighborhood almost completely bereft of healthy food options for its residents. Now, with the recent purchase of its future space, the market is closer to becoming fully realized.

Dismantling Food Deserts in an Age of Speculation: People’s Community Market Purchases Site for West Oakland Grocery Store

Back in the fall of 2012, food activist Brahm Ahmadi stood in front of a packed room in East Oakland’s warehouse district and made a simple pitch: Would the assorted local business owners and community organizer types who had gathered consider investing in People’s Community Market, the ambitious full-service grocery store that Ahmadi wanted to open in West Oakland? Would they do their part to bring healthy food to one of the city’s most notorious food deserts, where the primary shopping option is the corner liquor store?

Angel Investor Aids Quest to Build New West Oakland Grocery

West Oakland is one step closer to getting its first full-service grocery store in a decade.

As KQED reported last year, Brahm Ahmadi has been trying to buy land since 2014 in West Oakland — a food desert that has also become a more expensive place to live than it used to be. Ahmadi’s efforts to build People’s Community Market were stalled as land prices shot up. Now an anonymous investor and a well-known nonprofit developer have stepped up to help Ahmadi complete a deal that will allow him to build a market near the San Pablo corridor.

We Have a Location!

We have secured a location on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland for our full-service food market and social hall. This is a major milestone and a significant accomplishment in the overpriced and competitive real estate market of the Bay Area. It took our team – which included community development experts, real estate brokers, attorneys, and financial advisors – two years to secure a site, with the last six months involving significant negotiations, due diligence and site assessment on the two sites that we’ve secured.

This was a fairly complex real estate deal involving five different parties. Many issues had to be resolved in order to satisfy the interests of all of the parties involved and to make it a feasible deal for our business. The complexity of this deal demonstrates just how challenging it can be to open a grocery store in an under-served urban neighborhood and how the complexities and costs of real estate can be a major barrier to ensuring that all communities have access to good food. It also demonstrates the creativity, tenacity and partnerships that it takes to overcome these challenges and complexities.

We have entered into ground leases for two properties located on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. The specific locations, descriptions, lease agreements and redevelopment plans for each site are as follows:
PCM_Site Scheme
3103 – 3105 Myrtle Street: This property is located where Myrtle Street adjoins San Pablo Avenue from the south, on the west side of San Pablo Ave. It is 16,150 square feet in size and currently houses a building of 6,093 square feet in size.

Our site acquisition partner, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), purchased this property on March 21, 2016 using funds provided by an angel investor in the form of a low interest loan. The role of the angel investor in enabling a cash purchase of the property was essential as we could not have secured a loan from a bank because, as is the case with most real estate in the Bay Area, the selling price of the property was well over its market value.

We concurrently signed a lease with EBALDC for the property. Having EBALDC – an organization with a mission of healthy and stable neighborhood development – as the landlord significantly strengthens our ability to create a sustainable social enterprise. By charging our business one dollar per year in rent for the first three years, EBALDC is giving us a big edge in providing good food at affordable prices and living wage jobs. And having a landlord that is more interested in our long term success than in making a quick buck by raising the rent or selling the land gives us the long-term stability necessary to build a successful business and to place our social mission at the center of that business.

Our plan for this property is to build a 14,000 square feet full-service food market and social hall. We will be responsible for all costs associated with planning, permitting, demolition, construction, on-site and off-site improvements. The permitting process includes a Regular Design Review and a Minor Conditional Use Permit. We have secured the services of a project manager, architect, and interior planner, as well as legal counsel with expertise in real estate development and financing. Our CEO and our project manager will secure the services of a general contractor, who will, in turn, secure all necessary sub-contractors. The architect will secure services for civil, structural, and other required engineering.

Facade
3117 – 3129 San Pablo Avenue: This property is located on the west side of San Pablo Avenue immediately to the north of our other property. This property is 26,457 square feet in size and currently houses a building of 5,813 square feet in size. The property is owned by St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church (“St. Matthew”), a historic black church founded in 1955. St. Matthew utilizes the building for its religious services, offices and community programs. The remaining 20,644 square feet is a parking lot.

On March 11, 2016, we entered into a lease with St. Matthew for the parking lot. We will use all of the property except for the existing building, which will be used exclusively by St. Matthew. We’re paying a fair market rent for this lease. We’ll be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the portion of the property that we’re leasing, as well as for utilities and expenses connected to the operation of our business.

Our plan for this property is to use the 20,644 square foot paved lot as the parking lot for our food market. We will pay for and make certain improvements including re-grading, re-paving and re-striping the parking lot; expanding or adjusting driveway curbs; adding greenery and landscaping; adding fixtures, lighting posts and security cameras. The fence along the southern perimeter that adjoins the two properties will be removed to provide access between the store and the parking lot.

We’re excited to support St. Matthew at a time when many black churches in West Oakland are experiencing declining memberships and economic pressures due to changing demographics. In addition to the much needed income that St. Matthew will get from our rent payments, the customer traffic and public activity that our store will generate could present St. Matthew with the opportunity to increase their own visibility and to conduct outreach to grow their membership.
Site_plan_B
Now that we have site control we’re moving to the next phase in our project’s development: detailed site planning, government approvals/permits and institutional financing. We’re shooting to have these objectives complete by the Fall of 2016. If we can achieve this timeline, we can begin construction before the end of 2016 with the goal of completing construction in the Fall of 2017.

This is an incredibly exciting time for us. We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us during our efforts to secure a site. Thank you for your patience and ongoing support as we move our vision closer to reality.