.Town Business: Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to Become Private Offices

Kaiser Convention Center: According to two feasibility studies conducted by Orton Development and an independent consultant, the city-owned Kaiser Convention Center’s auditorium is no longer economically viable as a concert venue. Orton wants to convert the entire auditorium side of the Beaux Arts civic building into offices.

One-third of this new office space will be made up of a glass “building within a building” and rented to arts and cultural organizations, especially groups affiliated with the Calvin Simmons Theater, which is located in the western end of the Kaiser Convention Center building. The Calvin Simmons Theater would be reduced in size from 1,900 seats to 1,500, but kept as a performing arts space.

The other two-thirds of new office space built in the converted Kaiser Center auditorium side of the building will be rented at market rates as general commercial office space. Likely tenants include tech companies, attorneys, and similar professional firms.

Conversion of the Kaiser Convention Center from a 6,000 person capacity auditorium into offices would permanently close out the possibility of resurrecting its status as one of the premier indoor concert halls of Northern California. During its heyday, the Kaiser Convention Center hosted performances by the Grateful Dead in the 1970s and 1980s, and MC Hammer filled the arena in 1987 for a legendary hometown show.

History making political speeches were commonly booked in the Kaiser Convention Center too. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed 7,000 East Bay residents from the auditorium’s stage in 1962 on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Orton Development, the company that won the rights to redevelop the Kaiser Convention Center last year, will be unveiling more of their plans at this week’s Community and Economic Development Committee meeting on Tuesday.

It’s been a contentious process so far. Orton had to fight a competing developer to win the right to redevelop the Kaiser Convention Center. That competitor was proposing to keep the arena in-tact and bring it back into use as a concert space.


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