Oakland's historic Tribune Tower is bought in deal that will bring 300 jobs

Oakland's historic Tribune Tower is bought in deal that will bring 300 jobs

In a boost for the East Bay economy, an international call center company plans to bring 300 new jobs to downtown Oakland with its $8 million purchase of the historic but long-neglected Tribune Tower Building, brokers said Thursday.

CallSocket, which is based in Oakland, is buying the tower, a 23-story icon of Oakland's skyline.

"This is a good-news story for downtown Oakland," said David Noravian, a vice president with CB Richard Ellis, the commercial realty brokerage that handled the deal. "This is selling to an owner-user. They are filling up space and are bringing new jobs."

CallSocket intends to occupy about 37,000 square feet on multiple floors of the 83,000-square-foot landmark at 13th and Franklin streets.

"These 300 jobs are going to be significant for the Oakland economy," said Gregory Hunter, Oakland's deputy director of economic development. "These employees will support the retail and restaurant businesses in the neighborhood."

An Alameda County judge approved the purchase Thursday. Since December 2010, the building has been operating under a receivership supervised by Lori Bluett, principal executive with Bluett & Associates. Bluett wouldn't discuss the deal. The purchase is due to be completed Monday.

The 305-foot-tall Tribune Tower was completed in 1923 and opened in January 1924 by Joseph Knowland as the home of the Oakland Tribune newspaper. The building was occupied almost continuously by the newspaper for eight decades until 2007, when the paper shifted to a site near the Oakland airport.

The current sale price is about half of what the sellers, Edward Kislinger and Eric Waterman, paid in 2006 at the height of the commercial real estate bubble, when the building traded hands for $15.8 million.

Eventually, the building was shoved into receivership when a $10.3 million loan became delinquent. While the 49 percent price cut underscores the collapse in commercial property values, it represents a big opportunity for the new owners.

"With the lower cost basis, the owners can put in fresh capital," Noravian said. "They are going to upgrade it. Rather than being a zombie building, the Tribune Tower is coming back to life."

For years, the building was ignored and roughly 80 percent vacant.

To assist with the purchase, the buyers used a federal program called EB-5 visa that is designed for immigrant investors. Under modified versions of the original 1990 law, immigrants can obtain green cards for themselves and family members when they make significant investments and create jobs in areas where the jobless rate is 1.5 times the nationwide unemployment rate.

While the identities of CallSocket's principal executives weren't disclosed, use of the EB-5 program suggests the buying group includes at least one foreigner who did not have permanent U.S. residency.

"We are working with other groups to use EB-5 as a mechanism to partially finance development in the downtown and other business districts," Hunter said.

City and business leaders said the deal shows that downtown Oakland remains viable, despite an array of demonstrations and disruptions in recent years.

"This is great," said Steve Banker, president of LCB Associates, a commercial realty firm. "There is always a ripple effect when somebody invests like this. It helps with other property values. The office worker goes to a coffee shop, goes to lunch. New restaurants pop up."




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