Reactions have been across the map to yesterday's big news that Uber had snagged the huge former Sears building in downtown Oakland for what will be a new East Bay sister-headquarters come 2017. On the SFist comments alone you had many people sharing mixed feelings about the news, given that it will most certainly be a boon for development and real estate activity in Oakland, but it is also symbolic in bringing the Bay Area's fastest growing tech company right into the heart of a city that so far has been pretty low-tech. "On the one hand: yaay for downtown Oakland, it's about time that it stopped being a DMZ," says commenter Josh Berkus. "On the other hand, does anyone really believe that Uber will still have lots of money and 5000 employees in late 2017?" And says Ada Niemand, "I'm torn. On one hand, great that this empty building is being used. On the other hand, it's being used by Uber which is an awful company run by a dreadful man."
Many Oaklanders are going to be quick to defend downtown, and the nearby strip of Telegraph referred to as Uptown, from characterizations as a warzone, because it is certainly a far cry from the ominous ghost town it was fifteen years ago when I moved there. And as Joe Garofoli intelligently surmises in the Chronicle, this move for Uber might just serve to turn what many see as a heartless behemoth into a company with a heart, and a conscience.
"Uber will change Oakland, but will Oakland change Uber?" he asks in the headline, and he goes on to discuss what many are already discussing about the inevitable clash between Oakland's protest-happy, labor-friendly, anti-gentrification ethos and this San Francisco-based employer that hasn't, so far, seen much backlash from the local community, if you don't count class-action lawsuits from drivers. As Garofoli puts it,
Oakland is not a corporate mecca. It can’t rustle up enough corporate types to fill the luxury boxes at its sports venues, and is struggling to keep its pro teams in town. Unlike in the tech industry, diversity and social justice are already part of the culture. Disrespect Oakland and Occupy Uber will be outside your front door, along with some of the nation’s most powerful unions.
Yeah, does everyone remember the night Sears got smashed up and looted? (July 8, 2010)
Uber leapt on this deal because there aren't that many office spaces of this size available anywhere sitting on top of a BART station, let alone ones that are already constructed and undergoing $40 million renovations. And they already have a fifth of their workforce working in the East Bay, as the Business Times reports, a number they expect to grow in the next two years.
It should be noted that unlike when Twitter came to Market Street, Uber didn't need any tax incentives, and they're flush with cash for the spending, so they didn't need to strike a deal with the city requiring them to give back in any way. That's all going to come later, and will likely come as a result of growing blowback as the Oakland protest engines start revving, and as the perceived impacts of Uber's invasion begin to be felt.
In the meantime, expect a lot of various reactions along the lines of "Oakland is over." Also this, from the great Susie Cagle.
"Keep Oakland Scary"— Susie Cagle (@susie_c) September 23, 2015