Samuel Merritt University eyes new campus in Downtown Oakland

Nursing school poised to sign ground lease for 240K sf facility built by Strada Investment

From left: Strada Investment's Jesse Blout and Samuel Merritt University's Dr. Ching-Hua Wang along with a rendering of 520 11th Street in Oakland (Getty, Strada Investment, Samuel Merritt University)
From left: Strada Investment's Jesse Blout and Samuel Merritt University's Dr. Ching-Hua Wang along with a rendering of 520 11th Street in Oakland (Getty, Strada Investment, Samuel Merritt University)

One of California’s largest nursing schools is poised to quadruple enrollment by building a new campus in Downtown Oakland.

Samuel Merritt University plans to move its campus from Oakland’s Pill Hill to a 240,000-square-foot campus at 520 11th Street, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The 113-year-old school aims to sign a ground lease with the City of Oakland this year for a 1.25-acre city-owned lot bounded by 11th, Clay, and 12th streets, and Broadway.

Strada Investment Group, based in San Francisco, won approval to build the campus in July.

The Oakland City Council is expected to approve negotiations for a 99-year ground lease on Oct. 18. The council would also amend its development agreement with Strada.

Pending approvals, SMU could break ground for its new campus in 2024.

The school aims to expand enrollment to 10,000 students by 2050, from 1,300 students now taking classes at its current campus at 3100 Telegraph Avenue, which it leases from Sutter Health. Additional students study at satellite campuses in San Mateo, Sacramento and Fresno.

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The school could be a boon to Downtown, which suffered a 32 percent office vacancy rate last spring in the era of remote work. SMU would be a “major job generator and a workforce development engine,” according to a city report.

The glass-fronted campus, designed by Perkins&Will of Chicago, would be the second phase of a Strada development that launched with a mixed-use, 288-unit apartment tower in 2020.

When plans for an adjacent hotel were scrapped because of the pandemic, the developer pivoted toward an SMU campus. A new deal means Oakland will keep the land, leasing it to SMU.

The amended development agreement with Strada extends it to February 2024 to allow time for the university lease. If approved, SMU would pay the city $118,200 a year during construction and $236,400 plus annual increases after the school is built.

The city would offer a one-time rent credit of up to $500,000 for remediation work by SMU and Strada. The developer aims to raise $100 million for the development, financed by a mix of debt and equity, according to the Business Times.

Strada Investment is active in Oakland, having teamed up with East Bay Asian Local Development to build 556 apartments and 500,000 square feet of offices atop Lake Merritt Station near Chinatown.

— Dana Bartholomew

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