NIMBY’s last days in Oakland: Arts incubator makes way for pot grow

OAKLAND — Michael Snook is tired.

For the past 15 years, he’s sat at the helm of NIMBY, an arts incubator that provides studio space and shared tools for makers and creators. Its alumni have built everything from giant installations for Burning Man to intricately crafted sculptures that can fit in the palm of your hand.

But now, its days in Oakland are numbered. NIMBY has until the end of September before its rent will triple. A nearly two-year search to find anything comparable in the Bay Area has been fruitless, leaving Snook exhausted. It’s a fate to befall many of the do-it-yourself maker spaces across the city as the increasing demand for land incents property owners to find higher-paying tenants.

Murray Hill Partners, a real estate investment firm, purchased the Amelia Street block near 84th Street in East Oakland at the end of 2017, said Steve Wolmark, a partner in the firm. It made improvements to the neighboring buildings and began leasing to cannabis cultivation and manufacturing companies.

While Wolmark says he doesn’t have a new tenant lined up for NIMBY’s space, his company applied for a cannabis cultivation permit there, according to city officials. He says he needs to raise the rent closer to market rate to pay for deferred maintenance in the old warehouse. Demand from online retailers seeking distribution centers in dense urban areas, combined with the legalization of recreational marijuana, is making spaces like NIMBY’s scarce across the entire Bay Area, he said.

“We’re in a period of explosive growth,” Wolmark said.

It’s not the end of NIMBY. The maker-space is hoping to secure a vast tract of farmland in Lassen County, some 300 miles north of the Bay Area near Reno and the Nevada border. Snook envisions a NIMBY compound, with temporary living spaces artists can use to work on projects for weeks or months at a time.

It’s closer to Burning Man, the annual end-of-summer bacchanal celebrating community and art, where Snook first got inspired to embed himself in the DIY culture booming in the Bay Area’s underground when he moved from Oregon to the Bay Area in the mid-1990s.

Whenever his friends tried to build one of their large-scale art pieces in a backyard or parking lot, someone would complain to the city or police, he said. Snook, who was working as a property manager and flipping apartments, teamed up with several friends in the early 2000s to look for a 25,000 square-foot warehouse to share.

Eventually, they found one in 2004 in West Oakland with 28,000 square feet, renting out the remaining area. And, NIMBY was born: a tongue-in-cheek nod to the “not in my backyard” attitude that had kept them from making art.

At the time, former California Gov. Jerry Brown was the mayor of Oakland. The city was desperately trying to attract investors, and Brown’s office was friendly to artists who were beginning to give the city its cultural edge. Snook remembers West Oakland then as a sort of “wild west,” where artists had managed to lay claim to …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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