A rendering of the planned JCC East Bay campus in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy JCC East Bay)
A rendering of the planned JCC East Bay campus in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy JCC East Bay)

More green, more light — updated plans for new Oakland JCC campus

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Scaling back, but speeding up — that’s the updated plan for the new Oakland campus of the JCC of the East Bay, which will take over an existing office complex in the desirable Rockridge area.

The organization has put more ambitious early plans on hold in favor of a quicker ramp-up to a more usable space that still meets the center’s needs. The new plan will allow a preschool to be up and running hopefully by the end of 2025, with offices for a host of Jewish groups to encourage collaboration.

Melissa Chapman
Melissa Chapman

“I believe that it is going to transform how this community behaves and interacts,” said JCC CEO Melissa Chapman.

The 3-acre site in North Oakland — which includes a large office building, retail space, parking and a cluster of smaller buildings — was purchased for $41 million in December 2019 by real estate developer and philanthropist Moses Libitzky, with an eye on turning the property into a Jewish hub for the East Bay.

“The idea of a Jewish campus at this site was just too tempting to pass up,” he said in an interview with J. in February 2022.

The site, now occupied by the original owner, Nestlé-owned Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, is being leased back to the company through December 2024. Then the JCC will move in. The plan includes greening some hardscaped areas and opening up the front of the building to bring more light into the space and make it more inviting.

The building’s entrance faces the facility’s parking lot. The side of the building on busy College Avenue has retail space that will remain relatively untouched under the new plan. The JCC is working with Siegel & Strain Architects and Equity Community Builders on the project.

The property also includes several smaller buildings, including two houses that already host a Moishe House and a branch of Base, an initiative that aims to reach young Jews outside of the synagogue.

Several other Jewish organizations have already put their names down for office space, including Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay, LGBTQ organization Keshet, Jewish LearningWorks, Jewish Youth for Community Action, GatherBay and Wilderness Torah.

The interior of the new entrance planned for the JCC East Bay campus in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy JCC East Bay)
The interior of the new entrance planned for the JCC East Bay campus in Oakland. (Photo/Courtesy JCC East Bay)

Chapman said she hopes more organizations will join that list. Aside from the obvious financial benefit of below market rate rent, she also emphasized the potential for increased collaboration among organizations in “this beautiful, philosophical dream world where things can really happen.”

Once the tenants are out and the work is done — Chapman estimates it will take nine to 12 months — the JCC will launch a preschool, an afterschool program and a summer camp. Adult learning and holiday celebrations are all planned for the new campus, which includes an event space in the building that formerly held historic jazz club Yoshi’s.

Two amenities that have become synonymous with large JCC campuses, a gym and a pool, are not part of the plan.

“Building a $30 million building just didn’t make sense,” Chapman said. “And the swimming pool is another $30 million.”

Another reason for the decision not to pursue the fitness model, traditionally a big moneymaker for JCCs, was that Covid “devastated” that financial model, Chapman said. She counts her organization, which also runs a smaller JCC in Berkeley without fitness amenities, fortunate to have avoided the problem.

“There were a few factors that really made us step back,” Chapman said, citing cost, the slow process of getting permissions from an understaffed Oakland municipality, and neighborhood concerns about construction.

The current project won’t come cheap, possibly topping $100 million, according to Chapman. She said the organization will run a capital campaign with the aim of setting up an endowment, but that it has not yet been formally launched.

As for the JCC’s current quarters, a beautiful 107-year-old landmark building in North Berkeley that hosts a popular preschool and afterschool program, not to worry, Chapman said. While new child care programs are opening up, the existing ones will keep going.

“It’s really important that we stay connected to North Berkeley, because North Berkeley stayed connected to us,” she said.

Real estate developer and philanthropist Moses Libitzky is a major supporter of J.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.