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The economic outlook for Oakland is excellent. That was the key takeaway from the city’s recent economic summit, sponsored by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber leaders brought together economist and founder of Beacon Economics Chris Thornberg, developers, and a government leader to share that outlook with business leaders.

An architectural rendering shows what would become Oakland’s tallest skyscraper if it is approved by the Planning Commission next month. The office tower at 20th and Franklin streets would offer visitors a 360-degree panoramic view of the city from its top floor. (Image courtesy of city of Oakland)

Developers, in separate projects, are restoring the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and building the tallest skyscraper in the city, while COVID-19 vaccinations are prompting the reopening of the economy statewide in June.

“Oakland has a wonderful, wonderful future ahead of it,” Thornberg said of the city’s economy and of the city more broadly.

Restoration of Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center across from the south end of Lake Merritt is expected to begin this summer.

The center has been closed since 2005 after serving as a principal convening space for Oakland. The building opened in 1915. Dance, music, and theater are part of its history.

Orton Development, which is also restoring at least part of Pier 70 in San Francisco, will be responsible for the restoration.

Closer to downtown Oakland, Hines is building what will be the tallest building in the city at 20th and Franklin streets. The office project goes before the Oakland Planning Commission May 5.

“We do think people will be returning to the office to work,” said Paul Paradis, senior managing director at Hines.

Visitors will be able to enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the city from the top of the skyscraper.

The walls of the now closed Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center are scarred with graffiti in this image from late 2020. Restoration of Oakland’s famed auditorium is scheduled to begin this summer. (Photo by John Marks/Google)

California plays a role

State government officials are also working to ensure Oakland’s economic future is bright.

Dee Dee Myers, senior advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom told Oakland’s business leaders that Newsom is focusing his efforts on three areas to spur economic growth.

He is focused on distribution of the vaccine, supporting small businesses, and getting children back to school, Myers said.

Vaccinations are moving forward well, with about one-third of the state’s residents fully vaccinated. Statewide, people 16 years old and older are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.

California will be offering small business grants of $5,000 to $35,000 to sectors and communities hardest hit by the pandemic, while state leaders want children back in school five days a week by fall. That will allow parents to get back to work.

“Oakland has a wonderful, wonderful future ahead of it.”

Chris Thornberg, economist

Myers said housing and homelessness are challenges the state needs to take on to have a healthy and attractive business climate.

Oakland really needs to focus housing, Thornberg said. Lots of housing is needed, he said.

Thornberg even suggested rezoning excess retail space as mixed use space, which could be used at least partly for housing.

Nationwide, the recession due to the pandemic has been the nation’s deepest but also the nation’s shortest, Thornberg said.

He said economic downturns due to natural disasters are tragic in the short run, but modestly bad in the long run.

“We always knew a quicker than normal recovery was going to happen,” he said.