After ten months of uncertainty following the departure of Albertsons from its 3250 Lakeshore Avenue location, it was announced today that Trader Joe’s will be the new tenant, which will open in “early 2007.”

— · — · —

Trader Joe’s sees itself as “a grocery store, sure, but really so much more.” There are over 250 Trader Joe’s stores in over 20 states, with over 100 stores in California. The closest current locations to Lake Merritt are Emeryville, Alameda, El Cerrito, Lafayette, and San Francisco. Trader Joe’s is often associated with high value; high quality and innovative products; and relatively inexpensive organic fresh and frozen produce.

The choice will likely make many area residents very happy: In an online poll conducted by District 2 City Council member Pat Kernighan, Trader Joe’s was the first choice of 72 percent of the respondents. It was in the top three choices of 91 percent.

The news was announced this afternoon at a press conference at the former Albertsons site called by Council member Kernighan. (See Kernighan’s statement.) She was joined by David McDowell of Sansome Pacific Properties and by Pamela Drake, Executive Director of the Lakeshore/Lake Park Avenues Business Improvement District. Sansome Pacific has the right to lease the property and negotiated the deal with Trader Joe’s.

According to David McDowell, the agreement between Sansome Pacific and Trader Joe’s was inked this morning, and he made it public within hours.

McDowell said that there would be improvements in the management of the site’s parking, as well as bike racks to help bicyclists. “I’m a bicyclist myself,” he said.

Trader Joe’s will use the same building Albertsons inhabited but will make improvements to the exterior.

A decision that will surely please residents who live behind the site on Wesley Way: Trader Joe’s will move the loading dock from its back-of-the-building location on Wesley Way, relocating it to the Lake Park Avenue side of the building. Council member Kernighan explained that this condition was included at her urging, working with the City’s Community Economic Development Agency. Kernighan worked with AC Transit because a bus stop will need to be moved. Four parking meters will be removed as well to allow for the relocated loading dock.

Getting such a deal done was always complicated because of an anachronistically structured lease, which Sansome Pacific purchased from the departing Albertsons. The terms of the lease—basing the rent on total business volume, rather than profit—were uneconomical for any low-margin, high-volume business such as a grocery store. Sansome Pacific encountered difficulties when they attempted to renegotiate the lease terms with the property owners.

In addition to conducting the online survey, Council member Kernighan held two public meetings devoted solely to the future of the Albersons site, one in March and one in June.

Council member Kernighan believes a turning point was reached in June. At that time, rumors were swirling that Sansome Pacific had decided to lease the building to something other than a food store. (Rite-Aid and Long’s drug stores were frequently mentioned.) In response, Kernighan sent an “e-alert” to her newsletter’s distribution list. Within 36 hours, Sansome Pacific received over 200 emails from residents, opposing any non–food store tenant.

Sansome Pacific’s McDowell said that the community’s strongly expressed response was probably constructive because it put pressure not only on Sansome Pacific but also on the property’s owners to reach a solution that would please the community.

McDowell said that it is “really nice to see that the system works. That with cooperation between the community, city, and political leaders you can do the right thing.” “Many times people don’t believe that developers want that,” he said, “but we do.” McDowell said that they could have crafted a deal that had greater profits and was simpler besides. But he said he was happy that they could reach a good deal that also makes the community happy.

Pamela Drake, Executive Director of the Lakeshore/Lake Park Avenues Business Improvement District, said “This was a fantasy that we had many years ago,” and that she was thrilled to have it come to fruition.

[Editor’s note: Please see also “Patience paid off for Splash Pad and Trader Joe’s.”]