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Uber Comes to Oakland in a Big Way

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A $6.3 million federal grant will help pay for improvements at BART's 19th Street station in downtown Oakland, adjacent to  (Eugene Chan/Flickr)

Uber is coming to Oakland.

In a joint announcement with city officials, the ride-service company announced it's buying a historic department store building at 19th and Broadway and will open a branch of its global headquarters at the site.

The company, still privately held and valued at $50 billion as it continues its worldwide expansion, says it expects 2,000 to 3,000 staffers to work in the Oakland facility when it opens in 2017. If those staffing levels are attained, Uber would become the city's largest non-government, non-hospital employer.

Uber bought the building, which boasts 330,000 square feet of office space, from Lane Partners. The real estate firm had been redeveloping the site, last occupied by Sears last year, into a mixed retail and office development called Uptown Station. The purchase price for the seven-story edifice, long rumored to be the future home of a tech tenant, was not disclosed.

One question that arose immediately about the announcement was whether Oakland officials had offered financial incentives to attract the company.

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Mayor Libby Schaaf said no tax preferences or other incentives were offered.

Instead, she told KTVU in an interview Wednesday morning, Uber "chose Oakland for its magic -- for its soul."

Schaaf also acknowledged that many in the community will be wary of Uber's arrival and the nearly inevitable upward pressure on home prices the new headquarters will create. The city has already seen a spike in demand for housing and a corresponding rise in apartment rents, due largely to the technology boom in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

"We are going to be working to get them to commit to make sure that we preserve that soul ... and that's affordability, that's equity, that's fighting against displacement," she said. "And it's also preserving the cultural vitality of that neighborhood."

Schaaf and company officials acknowledged at a Wednesday press conference that no steps have yet been taken -- for instance, a community benefits plan of some sort -- to try to "preserve that soul."

Renee Atwood, Uber's "global head of people and places," said in a statement released before the press conference: “As we continue to build our teams across the hundreds of cities where we operate, the Bay Area remains our original home. We are excited to deepen our roots across the Bay by investing in the revitalization of historic downtown Oakland and to become a permanent part of the fabric of the East Bay community by adding thousands of jobs at our Oakland site.”

Uber currently has about 2,000 employees in its San Francisco offices. The new Oakland offices will supplement two office towers the company is building in Mission Bay.

Real estate and economic development analysts say they expect Uber's arrival in Oakland could trigger a surge in residential housing construction in the city and may help attract other big-name tech firms to the city.

Gov. Jerry Brown, an Oakland resident and the city's former mayor, made housing construction a priority during his two terms. That led to thousands of new apartment and condo units being built in the city's downtown, Uptown and Jack London Square neighborhoods. Earlier this year, construction began on Brooklyn Basin, a planned 3,100-unit development on the Oakland Estuary southeast of Jack London Square.

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