Written by Jeff Eichenfield
KoreaTown-Northgate is a lively but long-neglected commercial corridor along Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California that is seeing a lot of positive change these days due to efforts of a group of property owners who have banded together to revitalize the district under the multi-culti tagline “Oakland’s Got Seoul.”
The idea to form a “Koreatown” in Oakland has been kicking around for more than 10 years because there are a large number of Korean-American businesses and service groups along Telegraph Avenue. But it wasn’t until 2007 that property owners voted to create a property-based business improvement district that raises more than $250,000 annually to organize the effort.
Darlene Drapkin of Urban Transformation and I were hired last August as contract staff. We are long time Main Street program devotees, having managed local Main Street programs and having worked with the National Main Street Center as consultants on numerous occasions. It’s been very helpful, and natural, for us to organize our efforts in Koreatown-Northgate using the Four Point Main Street Approach to Revitalization.
One of the most interesting aspects of the program is that the district is not all Korean… far from it. There are African-American, West African, Muslim, Arab, and Caucasian owned businesses as well. Our challenge is work with all these cultural groups on a common vision… one that respects the current cultural mix but recognizes the value of attracting more Korean investors in order to carve out a unique identity that will make the district stand out in the marketplace and bring in more income for all.
Our first order of business has been to make sure the district is clean and orderly, so we hired a sidewalk maintenance service and a street ambassador who walks the area every day, meeting and greeting business owners and looking for graffiti, illegal dumping, drug dealing, and other problems. We also instituted a program that removes graffiti from private property at no charge. And we have been meeting regularly with the Oakland Police Department to increase patrols and address security concerns.
Our second order of business has been to brand the district and enhance its visual appeal. Our Design Committee just installed beautiful “Oakland’s Got Seoul” street banners. Their unveiling ceremony attracted over 150 individuals, including many from the Korean press and the Korean Consul General’s office. Other projects being discussed include gateway treatments and murals involving local artists and youth.
With the district looking and feeling good, our Promotions Committee is planning our first annual Koreatown-Northgate Festival to be held this September 19, 2009. The festival will showcase the diverse cultures and business opportunities in the district. And a multi-cultural BBQ contest will be part of the fun!
Jeff Eichenfield is the executive director of the KoreaTown-Northgate Community Benefit District. Contact him by email at jeff[at]KoreatownNorthgate[dot]org (replace the words in brackets with the customary symbols), by phone at 510-343-5439 (ext.3), or online at www.revitalized-downtowns.com.