Uber Out of Oakland? Company Mulls Selling Uptown Station

The Mercury News
By George Kelly

OAKLAND — Uber is considering selling the former Sears building that was once intended to be the ride-hailing firm’s Oakland headquarters.

“As we look to strengthen our financial position so we can better serve riders and drivers for the long term, we’re exploring several options for Uptown Station, including a sale,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in a statement Thursday night. “We remain committed to serving Oakland and our broader hometown Bay Area community.”

The San Francisco Business Times first reported the news, which Uber confirmed to this news organization.

The building at 1955 Broadway, which formerly housed the Capwell and Sears department stores, was rebranded as Uptown Station and has undergone extensive renovations for almost two years. Uber bought the building in 2015 for $123.5 million, and originally planned to move up to 3,000 employees into the space. But in March, Uber changed course and said it would instead move just a few hundred employees in to start. The ride-hailing company had planned to lease the remaining space, which was set to open in the second quarter of 2018.

Uber now says it is reconsidering its Oakland plans as part of a broader effort to cut losses and become profitable. The company last year cut sweeping losses in China by selling its business in the country to rival Didi Chuxing, and last month ceded control of the Russian market in a merger with rival Yandex.

Meanwhile, Uber is struggling turn around its image after a series of scandals, including claims of sexual harassment and sexism, tarnished the company’s reputation and cost it its CEO.

Uber says part of its plan to overhaul its company culture involves keeping all employees together in one office, rather than spread throughout several buildings. The company plans to consolidate employees in its new Mission Bay campus in San Francisco.

Orson Aguilar, president of Oakland nonprofit The Greenlining Institute, which spearheaded a “#NoUberOakland” campaign to keep Uber out of the city, said he expected Uber’s earlier announcement of retrenchment might lead to the building’s sale.

“Clearly a sale complicates what could be the building’s benefit to communities,” Aguilar said Thursday. “Uber, with all its challenges, could still do something for the community and make a win for everyone’s benefit if it had dedicated significant space for a training center.”

The campaign, which began about three months ago, could have a second life depending on the outcome of the building’s sale, Aguilar said.

“It’s about Uber, but it’s also a template for other companies. If a tech company were to buy it at that price tag, the community might have similar requests to make sure whoever occupies it brings positive efforts to Oakland,” he said. “Groups do want companies to come, not to engage in business as usual, but to work with the community to make sure people have jobs, that small businesses can provide services, that they’re coming in more conscious of social and corporate responsibilities.”

Uber says it has always been committed to serving Oakland. The company has donated $70,000 toward helping Oakland students attend college, and given away $30,000 worth of free rides to Oakland organizations.