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Richmond's 'Industrial Chic' Ford Craneway Becomes Regional Draw

The following is from today’s West County Times. Richmond’s waterfront attractions are the foundation on which a new Richmond with a new image is being built. I hope to see you today at the Veteran’s Day event on the Red Oak Victory.

Richmond's 'industrial chic' Ford craneway becomes regional draw

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 11/10/2008 06:08:38 PM PST


Where cranes loaded Ford cars onto railroad trains destined for the sales market, couples now will celebrate their nuptials, and girls will turn 15 with a traditional quinceañera.

And where workers galvanized to build jeeps and tanks during World War II, performers will dance, and business executives will mingle at conventions.

The historic craneway at Richmond's old Ford plant is shifting from its industrial past into a new present.

Orton Development Inc., which helped finance the renovation and manages the building, is turning the 45,000-square-foot craneway into a regional events venue that is starting to draw big names. The New York-based Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed to nearly sold-out crowds Sunday. And on Nov. 1, well-known electronic music DJ Paul Van Dyk headlined a concert to an enamored audience.

"We have almost solid bookings for weekends for six months," said James Madsen, craneway general manager.

The building is being marketed as the Craneway Pavilion, a flexible venue for such events as wedding banquets, class reunions, performances, concerts and business conventions. It holds 5,000 people standing and 2,500 seated, and comes with 1,300 parking spaces in lots that flank the building.

A dozen events already have been held here, some drawing visitors from the South Bay and as far as the East Coast. Weekend events are leaning toward celebrations and the arts; Madsen's team would look to book corporate meetings on weekdays.

"We showed event planners the space," Madsen said. "Everyone was skeptical at first because it started out as a construction zone, but then people get here, they see the space, the infrastructure, the views. We started hearing that we're the Fort Mason of the East Bay."

Fort Mason, a former U.S. Army Post at San Francisco's waterfront, now hosts theater, exhibitions and classes.

Close connections and word-of-mouth have helped shift the spotlight toward Richmond. Robert Cole, director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, knows developer Eddie Orton and was impressed with the craneway on a visit. His organization was booking the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for shows at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, and knew Merce also performs in nontraditional settings, including a transformed factory in upstate New York last year. Co-producing a show at the craneway seemed fitting, he said.

"The raw space is impressive, the size, the grandeur of it, the way the light shines in," Cole said.

The craneway has come a long way in its evolution from industrial space to events venue. The Ford building, at the end of Harbour Way South, was the largest auto plant on the West Coast when it debuted in 1930. Workers assembled cars here, then shifted to assembling military jeeps and completing tanks and other equipment during World War II. The plant shut down in 1956, and the space was relegated to storage or sat vacant.

More than $28 million in federal, city and private money was funneled into retrofitting the plant, which has since been renamed Ford Point. Today, SunPower, Mountain Hardwear and other companies lease the building for offices, retail, light industrial and manufacturing operations.

With the craneway — a large wing at the end of the Ford Point building that fronts the water — Orton Development plans to add night life to the mix.

Rehabilitation of the craneway alone cost about $4 million. Crews repaired windows and doors, treated the floor and incorporated lighting and audio technology. Then, they tackled one of the biggest hurdles: acoustics. They padded ceilings and walls with 50,000 square feet of foam, reducing reverberation from 9 seconds to 1 to 2 seconds, Madsen said.

Someday, Orton hopes to produce and promote its own Craneway Pavilion events.

"There's a finite number of venues that can handle more than 1,000 people, and there aren't a lot of buildings out there that are industrial chic," Madsen said.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.