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The Ford Building Takes Off

Little did I know when I agreed in 1984 to provide pro bono services to prepare a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the former Ford Assembly Plant that I would be planting the first critical seeds in saving a building that would become a Richmond  economic powerhouse and a popular Bay Area venue for an incredible diversity of events.

Ultimately, the Ford Assembly Building rehabilitation was completed by developer Eddie Orton, who succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations to fill it with a star-studded list of tenants, most with solid green credentials, including Vetrazzo and SunPower.

The building would go on to win a highly coveted national award for historic preservation. See More On Ford Assembly Building Award, June 23, 2008. It will also be the location for the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Visitor Center.

But the most stunning part of the building, the Craneway, has come into its own as a Bay Area venue for festivals, weddings and the arts, including Richmond’s unique Home Front Festival, coming up in just a few weeks on October 3, 4 and 5. For information about the Craneway, see:

I a rare arts event on November 14, the 14-member Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present a new, "site-specific" work titled "Craneway Event" at a repurposed Ford assembly plant in Richmond. See below.

Finally, consider some statistics on the building’s contribution to economic development in Richmond;

·         Before completion of rehabilitation, the building was carried on the Contra Costa County tax rolls with a value of about $9 million. After rehabilitation, the value zoomed to about $46 million, and it is still growing. Because it is in a redevelopment area, the increase in property taxes accrues totally to Richmond. Instead of getting about 10% of property taxes, Richmond gets 100% of the “tax increment,” which in this case is worth about $300,000 a year.

·         There are about 600 employees in the building, and the number will eventually grow to about 800. If it were a single company, the Ford Building would be among Richmond’s top ten employers, and currently, it has fully half as many employees as Chevron, Richmond’s top employer.

·         The gross payroll of employees is about $30 million annually, eventually growing to over $40 million.

·         Because the building is listed on the National Register, the developer was able to tap into substantial historic preservation tax credits, estimated at over $5 million to help make the rehabilitation economically feasible.

The Ford Assembly Plant, now known as “Ford Point” is helping to change the image of Richmond and bring thousands of people to our city. This is the kind of economic development I have worked for the last 13 years I have served on the City Council.

Cunningham takes dance to industrial site

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Twice on a single Sunday afternoon in November, the 14-member Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present a new, "site-specific" work titled "Craneway Event" at a repurposed Ford assembly plant in Richmond.

By site-specific, Cunningham means a performance to some degree responsive to the setting in which it transpires.

The new work will take place on multiple stages among which the audience can move. It will include scored and improvised sound elements realized by the MCDC's musicians: David Behrman, John King, Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff.

"Craneway Event" takes it title from the huge, now vacant, industrial space designed by Albert Kahn, where assembled vehicles were once loaded by cranes onto railroad cars at an adjacent siding.

"Craneway Event" will culminate a two-week MCDC residency at Cal Performances that will also involve performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. The 517,000-square-foot factory building anchors the mixed-used complex now known as Ford Point, bought from the Richmond Redevelopment Agency in 2004 by Orton Development Inc. in Emeryville.

British artist Tacita Dean will shoot the Cunningham Dance Company's preparations for "Craneway Event" and her interaction with the performers and choreographer promises to affect the character of the work the public sees.

Dean plans to shape the material into a film that will serve as a tribute to Cunningham when he turns 90 in April.

Dean has worked with Cunningham before, producing six 1-minute films of him performing "...Stillness (in three movements) to John Cage's compositions 4' 33"..."

In each, Cunningham appears posed in a chair, mirroring the silence of Cage's "4' 33"..." - which calls for a pianist to sit motionless at an open keyboard - and reflecting Cunningham's own mobility problems after a lifetime of punishing performance.

In 2006, Dean made a remarkable film about film itself in a factory in France. In response to the news that Kodak was to close a film production plant in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, she produced a haunting, at times nearly abstract, documentary of her own increasingly obsolete medium coming into being.

Cunningham, who collaborated with Cage (1912-1992) many times while sharing a life with him, has received international recognition for his work, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Medal of Arts, Japan's Praemium Imperiale and the Golden Lion at the 1995 Venice Biennale.

Craneway Event: Merce Cunningham Dance Company. 1 and 3 p.m. Nov. 9. Ford Point, 1414 Harbor Way S., Richmond. Tickets: $40 general admission; UC Berkeley students, half price. (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.org.

E-mail Kenneth Baker at kennethbaker@sfchronicle.com.