Uptown Is the New Downtown 

The district culminates its redevelopment with a huge street party.

Oakland has reached a very strange juncture in its new renaissance. The economy is tanking, and Oakland — like many other cities — is mired in a severe fiscal crisis. All the same, development is proceeding at a clip. In recent months, Oakland has seen a surge in nightclub and restaurant openings. Four new nightclubs just popped up in the Uptown, building on the area's nexus of restaurants, wine bars, theaters, boutiques, and galleries. Adding to that nucleus are the Uptown Apartments, the venerable Paramount Theater, and, of course, the newly restored Fox. Ever more opulent in design, the Uptown district is gradually percolating over to San Pablo Avenue and Auto Row, which city planners are trying to develop into a retail destination. From the outside, it almost looks like a recession-proof city.

How it keeps growing is a matter of some speculation. Maybe a lot of folks are forgoing their vacations and exploring their neighborhood more. Maybe those restaurants had collateral and good track records, which allowed them to expand despite the economic slump. Whatever the case, Samee Lynn Roberts, who manages the city's cultural arts and marketing department, believes Oakland stands to grow more than other Bay Area cities in terms of business attraction, jobs, and housing in the next few years. Once the economy rebounds, it will already have the makings of a thriving downtown and a promising waterfront — especially with this year's unveiling of a giant farmers' market in Jack London Square. "That's what we're putting on our dancing shoes about," Roberts said.

Once the Fox got its programming under way, city boosters decided that their neighborhood finally had an anchor. With the help of private sponsors and two community benefit districts in the greater downtown area, they decided to throw a big celebration, called "Uptown Unveiled." Like all things development-related, it started with a couple of little e-mails to a couple of sets of constituents, and morphed into something huge. Now the event will feature restaurant specials throughout the area, a Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam, a skateboarding contest, and a "Fashion Meets Photography" showcase outside VJ London Studios. Roaming entertainers include emcee Erica Nelani, Prescott Circus performers, burlesque dancers from Hot Pink Feathers, Afro-Brazilian drum troupe Fogo Na Roupa, Blue Bone Express, and the All-Star Marching Band. To top it all off, the party features three stages of entertainment with fifteen bands — headliners are John Santos and the Kev Choice Ensemble. The whole thing came together in a sort of haphazard way, with each venue adding its own spin, said Roberts. That's a bit unusual for a city-sponsored event. Then again, Oakland always does things its own way. Uptown Unveiled happens Thursday, June 18, on Telegraph Avenue between 16th St. and West Grand. 5-10 p.m., free. MeetDowntownOak.com


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