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City, Developer in Disagreement Over Alleged Violations at Historic Ford Plant

When the legislation creating Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park was signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, it included a vision of the Ford Building as the location of the Visitor Center and allowed federal funds to be used for that purpose:

The Secretary may establish a World War II Home Front Education Center in the Ford Assembly Building. Such center shall include a program that allows for distance learning and linkages to other representative sites across the country, for the purpose of educating the public as to the significance of the site and the World War II Home Front. (d) Use of Federal funds

Following is the language in the agreement that transferred the property from the City to Orton Development:


I 7.10 Visitor Center Lease. As stipulated in the federal legislation creating the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park, a Visitor's Center to support the park will be located in the Building upon its rehabilitation and redevelopment. The Developer shall promptly enter into a lease with the NPS under which the NPS shall operate an approximately 10,000 square foot visitor's center in the Building for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park. The lease shall provide shell space rent free (excluding normal NNN expenses and tenant improvements) for a minimum of 10,000 square feet of space, a significant portion of which must be located in the Craneway or immediately adjacent to the Craneway subject to approval of the NPS. The lease shall also be subject to the approval of the Agency, which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld. The lease shall include the First Source hiring provisions set forth in Section 6.12 above, if legally permissible to do so under applicable federal statutes.


Exhibit D Scope of Development Developer proposes to rehabilitate the building as a mixed-use project consistent with the Knox Freeway/Cutting Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan, which will include various business elements, community organizations, educational institutions, live/work units, visitor center for the National Park Service, public gathering destination, and public access to the Bay Trail. The Craneway design includes a restaurant, education, entertainment; galleries, and display areas, retail, and gathering destination for groups and events consistent with the California State Lands Commission public trust easement. The Rosie the Riveter Visitor's Center has been allocated 10,000 square feet at the west side of the Craneway.

Although Orton and the National Park Service both agree that the Oil House would be a suitable substitute for the Craneway for a Visitor Center, negotiation of a lease has been at a standstill for many months, if not years, and the National Park Service meanwhile has lost an appropriation in excess of $3 million intended to build the internal Visitor Center improvements. If the Oil House is not going to be made available, the National Park Service is prepared to proceed with a location in the Craneway as originally intended.

Meanwhile, Richmond is missing out on the attraction that a Visitor Center would provide in attracting people from all over America to our city, and those Rosies who had hoped to see the Visitor Center completed are now in their 80s and 90s and are passing on at an increasing rate every day.

City, developer in disagreement over alleged violations at Historic Ford Plant


The Oil House, a possible site for a National Park Service visitor's center, seen through the dining room of the BoilerHouse restaurant. (Photo by Ryan Phillips)

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letter from Richmond City Attorney Randy Riddle says that Orton Development isn’t living up to its part of the contract at the Historic Ford Assembly Plant.

Orton Development president Eddie Orton says he wants some patience. He says he’s been working with the city and doesn’t understand why the city attorney would send him a letter he says is “inaccurate and wrong.” Calls to the city attorney’s office seeking comment were not returned.


Orton was contracted by the Richmond Redevelopment Agency to rehabilitate the 561,000-foot Ford Plant, which first opened in 1931 and processed military vehicles during World War II. Orton was issued a conditional use permit in 2003.

Much of the project has been completed – businesses have moved in and are operating, the BoilerHouse Restaurant is open and the Craneway Pavilion houses events.

But according to a letter dated Dec. 7 from the city attorney, Orton Development is still in violation of its agreement with the city, the conditional use permit and “related permits and leases” more than nine months after the city sent a previous letter demanding the violations be remedied.

The Dec. 7 letter highlights two areas where it deems inadequate progress has been made: That Orton provide a rent-free space to the National Park Service for a visitor’s center; and that Orton provide public access for the San Francisco Bay Trail, part of which runs along the Craneway wharf. Orton was asked to respond by Dec. 14. According to the letter, the restriction of public access to the Bay Trail violates the “December 9, 2004 Ground Leases between Ford Point, LLC and the City and Agency for the Craneway and submerged lands (’Ground  Leases’).”

Orton said he wrote back immediately to ask for “clarification of some of their statements.”

“The letter is wrong, it’s too bad they put it out,” Orton said. “This is not the direction we need to go in.”

Orton said he has been negotiating with the National Park Service to provide space for a visitor’s center for the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front Historical National Park. The agreement between Orton and the city requires the center be located in the 40,000-foot Craneway in the Ford Building, and the letter states Orton has chosen to “rent all available space in the Ford Building and has not made the Craneway available to NPS.”

Orton said that the Oil House, a building adjacent to the Craneway would be a better fit for the center than the expansive Cranehouse. Housing the visitor’s center at the Oil House would fulfill the contractual obligation that 10,000 feet of space be given to the Park Service for the visitor’s center.

Orton said he’s hopeful the project can be completed within 12-24 months, with the Oil House as the likely site of the center.

Park superintendent Martha Lee said she thinks the center will probably be located in the Oil House, from what she’s learned from the Park’s negotiations with Orton. Lee said the Oil House would be a good place because, since it would not be located inside the Craneway but in its own building, the Park Service can operate the center during hours it chooses.

But, she said “we don’t have a written agreement with the owner. Until we’ve reached the end of our negotiations, we can’t say for sure.”

Lee said the time frame for completion of the project proposed by Orton works fine for the Park Service, and said she’s optimistic a deal can be worked out in the near future.

“Orton has done an amazing job (in rehabilitating the Ford Plant),” she said, “and I’m sure he’s going to be a good partner as we move ahead with the visitor’s center.”

According to the letter from the city attorney, though “insufficient progress” has been made in developing the Oil House location, what the letter calls Orton’s “proposed alternative” to the Craneway.

The letter also highlights what it says is a failure to allow access to the portion of the Bay Trail that runs along the Craneway wharf. The letter states that, in installing iron gates across the Bay Trail that are locked at night, Orton is in violation of a 2006 permit issued by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to Orton and the city. The BCDC regulates development along the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

According to the BCDC, there are apparent violations of the permit, which requires public access to the Bay Trail, and it is working with the city and Orton to come to a resolution. Alan Wolken, the city’s project manager for the rehabilitation of the Ford Building, said Orton and the city submitted a revised plan to the BCDC that includes plans to modify the gates to improve access to the Bay Trail, and calls for an old ferry boat and barge that need permits to be removed. The revised plan also asks that the gates be allowed to lock from 1-5 a.m.

Orton said the gates are an issue of “a balancing act between public access versus public safety,” and said the gates can be locked at night because of “crowd control and crime control.”

“It’s in Richmond city’s interest to make sure you wipe out crime that’s occurring and we open this fully over a period of time in an intelligent and safe way,” he said.