Oakland Okays the Sale of Henry J. Kaiser 

Plus Yoshi's SF finally makes money and a new studio aims to make the Bay Area a recording mecca again.


As we reported a few months ago, the City of Oakland began looking into selling the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to help address its multimillion-dollar budget deficit. And it's apparently one step closer to making that a reality. At last week's meeting, the city council agreed to a proposal to sell the city-owned venue, which shuttered back in 2006. While there are no firm buyers yet, Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said there are two groups interested in purchasing the property.

The city has budgeted to receive about $10 million from the sale, but Nadel believes the city may be able to get more than that. About $30 million in debt is attached to the Henry J., and that amount would be transferred to the City Hall complex if the convention center is sold.

However, whether the city can get $10 million is unclear. At least one potential buyer is Peralta Community College District, whose Laney campus is just across the street from the Kaiser. Alton Jelks, special assistant to Peralta's chancellor, said Peralta already has an offer and is just waiting to meet face-to-face with the city to make it happen. "We've been ready," said Jelks this morning. "I think the city has been in so much turmoil just finding the time."

At one point the venue was valued at $54 million. Back in March, Councilwoman Jean Quan said Peralta was offering between $6 and $8 million. (The historic venue also needs an estimated $3 to $5 million in repairs.) Jelks wouldn't disclose the amount that Peralta is going to offer, but said, "everyone thinks it's a fair amount. ... I want to emphasize the reason I've been pushing for us to do this for several years is we don't have any predetermined motivation. This is about bringing that wonderful facility back to use."

Yoshi's SF Finally Makes Money

Yoshi's' San Francisco location started off with a bang when the jazz venue opened its doors in December 2007. But since then, the venue has consistently lost money, according to co-owner Kaz Kajimura. But thanks to some recent management restructuring and programming changes, Kajiumura reports that Yoshi's finally made money in the first quarter of 2010.

"It is very, very challenging but I think it's turning around finally with the economy coming back," said Kajimura. "We actually made money in the first quarter. That hasn't happened in a long time."

After a successful opening month in which the venue made "a huge amount," Kajimura said "we thought it's going to be really, really great. But the economy went into a losing spiral. There was a month or two we almost made it." In addition, he said the venue also took a hit when a couple big acts cancelled. "We're cutting costs as much as possible and trying to find new income streams by developing late-night DJ parties as a sort of third component of Yoshi's' business component. All those things seem to be finally coming together."

The owners of Yoshi's started their venture in 1973 in Berkeley, then moved to Claremont Avenue in Oakland in '77, before relocating to Jack London Square in 1997. They took a risk by opening a sister location in San Francisco. "We're still learning what works and doesn't work in San Francisco," said Kajimura. "It's an ongoing struggle but I think we're getting smarter in booking the right acts."

So what exactly are the right acts for San Francisco? "We have to be smarter — not having the Oakland and San Francisco booking conflict each other," he said. "We're getting really good at it now. Basically we're trying to find the right act — that's always challenging because we don't' have the luxury of, oh, we don't have good acts, let's turn the club dark. We have to fill every single day. Sometimes at the last minute we end up having some act that's not really a good run. For us, unless the entertainment side works it's very tough to have the restaurant standing alone. The first priority is, let's have a good booking. It's still hit-or-miss but I think we're getting better and better."

Hopefully Yoshi's SF will be able to make the venture more stable because it's about to face increased competition. As we reported last month, SFJAZZ announced plans to open a new home — including a 700-seat auditorium — in Hayes Valley thanks to an anonymous $20 million donation. Currently, Yoshi's in SF — whose jazz club seats a little more than 400 — has to book artists for multiple days to accommodate larger crowds.

"It's probably [going to be] more challenging for us in securing good acts," said Kajimura. "It's not so much the paper market we're concerned about. Sometimes they have a pretty big power to grasp a lot of artists because their venues are a lot bigger than us so a lot of artists go for that because they don't have to play multiple nights at Yoshi's. They only do one night, and make the same amount of money. It's going to be challenging but if it happens we'll have to find a way to coexist."

New Studio Caters to the High-End

A new studio hopes to put the Bay Area back on the map as a place for high-end recording facilities. Studio Trilogy, launched in April by local recording veterans Justin Lieberman, Cindy McSherry, and Willie Samuels, is housed in the former home of Talking House Productions, which vacated the facility earlier this year. McSherry, Lieberman, and Samuels all worked at Talking House; McSherry as a manager and Lieberman and Samuels as engineers.

"It's a really nice studio with really nice gear and there's not many of those left," said Samuels. "Our focus is trying to make it more like an old-school studio where there's a family vibe — not so corporate like a lot of studios are now."

The biggest draw of the facility, says Samuels, is the studio's K series SSL console — "the last big super analog console that was made." There are only twelve such consoles in the country, he says, and they've got the only one in the Bay Area. In addition, Studio Trilogy has 6,000 square feet of space, an apartment on-site that's available to rent, and all working gear.

Though initially the three focused on targeting the Bay Area market, they're now reaching out to LA and beyond. "There's only so much work in the Bay Area," said Samuels, who added that most local studios have slashed prices due to the economy and the general state of the scene. "But the goal is definitely to rejuvenate the scene here. San Francisco used to be this huge recording mecca for people to record. That died off in the last ten, twenty years." Now, there's only Skywalker Sound in Marin and Fantasy Studios in Berkeley that cater to a similar clientele as Trilogy, he added.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to try and appeal to high-paying clients during a down-turned economy, apparently there is a demand for such a facility. Samuels said that their first two months were "slammed." Clientele so far have included Kronos Quartet, Primus (recording for Guitar Hero), Adrienne Bailon from The Cheetah Girls, and pianist George Winston. "It's surprisingly doing better than we expected," said Samuels. "So far so good. It's so hard to predict in this business how anything will go. We're filling a need that was empty for so long."

Miscellaneous Debris

The Independent, which typically hosts shows nearly every night of the week, doesn't have anything on its schedule from July 3 to August 4. But the calendar is full as usual after that, until September 30. Sarah Fink of Another Planet Entertainment, which runs the venue, declined to comment on the issue. ... Facing declining CD sales and illegal online sharing, the major-label record industry is calling on the government to help them regulate the piracy. In an e-mail, Jim Urie, president and CEO of Universal Music Group Distribution, said the industry should also try to negotiate deals with Internet Service Providers. Dubbed "Music Rights Now," the effort's Facebook page has about 500 friends. ... Two Bay Area-ites are finalists in MTV's national search for a "Twitter Jockey." Pegah Rashti and Ryan Carlos are both from the South Bay, 21 years old, and Tweet as if their lives depended on it. Read our interviews with them at EastBayExpress.com/blogs/EarBud/. ... And Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart and Gamelan Sekar Jaya are among the performers at BAM/PFA's L@TE: Friday Nights series this summer.

Editor's Note: The print version of this story incorrectly stated the potential buyer of the Henry J. Kaiser. It is Peralta Community College District, not the Peralta Colleges Foundation. This version has been updated to reflect the change.

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