SMU Recognized for Oakland City Center Real Estate Deal

Bill Hendee

Samuel Merritt University (SMU) was honored for its deal with the City of Oakland to transform the last remaining lot from the city’s 1974 City Center master plan into the school’s new flagship campus. The San Francisco Business Times presented SMU with a Real Estate Deal of the Year award at a gala held at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on March 30 in recognition of the landmark 99-year ground lease agreement for the property.

The lease was approved by the Oakland City Council in October of last year, opening the way for SMU to construct a 10-story, 260,000-square-foot building housing classrooms, state-of-the-art labs, and other cutting-edge health sciences training facilities. Once completed, the new campus will enable SMU to double its enrollment over the next ten years.

SMU Executive Vice President and Treasurer Dave Lawlor called the lease agreement a win for both the city and the university. “It makes sense for the city to close out this lot in that 50-year master plan, and it keeps a critical community-minded nonprofit connected to Oakland,” said Lawlor.

Lawlor, who architected the lease agreement on behalf of Samuel Merritt University, said the response to the project from city leaders and the broader community has been overwhelmingly positive. The flagship campus proposal received unanimous approval from Oakland officials as it progressed through design review, the planning commission, and approval by the city council. “It was great to see,” said Lawlor. “The love and support, not only from city officials and delegates, but from friends and neighbors.”

The deal came together after the city connected SMU, which was looking for a site on which to build the new campus, with Strada Investment Group, which had an existing development agreement in place for parcel. SMU engaged Strada as a development manager, and the city council subsequently approved an amendment to its previous agreement with Strada making Samuel Merritt University the site’s developer. Lawlor said, “We negotiated all things about the site and the building and the ground lease as the developer.”

The award-winning City Center project will extend Samuel Merritt University’s 114-year presence as an Oakland institution well into the next century. “Our commitment is long-term to Oakland,” said Lawlor. “Not just a hundred years, it’s long term. We are quite happy to enter into a 99-year ground lease, and the city wants us here.”

The university secured $139 million in bond financing toward the project in December after receiving an A3 rating from Moody’s Investor Services. SMU is proving an additional $120 million from its own reserves toward construction.

Samuel Merritt University will break ground on the new campus on April 10. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the project is the only major commercial development currently moving forward in Oakland.

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