American Steel Has Been Sold: Here’s What It Means for Bay Area Artists

This post was contributed by a volunteer.

American Steel Studios is now owned by 11 West Partners, the property manager announced to tenants in an email November 2.

The sale is good news for scores of artists, many of whom build Mutant Vehicles or other projects for the playa. (At least in the sense that the new owner wants to keep AmSteel as an art facility. The specifics of what will happen are still unknown. — ed.)

The American Steel Studios community has lived with the possibility of a sale since 2014 when the lease expired between master tenant Karen Cusolito and the former owner of the building, Maurice Kanbar. Since then, there has been concern that the West Oakland facility could be purchased and converted to some other use than studio space.

News of the potential purchase trickled out during the past two months, as the current property manager made it known that the sale was under discussion and that the buyer intended to maintain the property as an arts facility.

American Steel’s tenants include the Mutant Vehicle Chester on Fire, La Victrola, The Flux Foundation, Department of Spontaneous Combustion and many others.

Here’s the letter that went out to tenants:

11 West Partners
1296 18th Street
Oakland, CA 94607
American Steel Community:

We are looking forward to continuing our work with all of you, individually and as a community, as we transition into our role as the new owners of the American Steel building.

We wanted to update you with some practical information about the project team. Our goal is to make this transition as simple and transparent as possible. As with any change like this, we understand that it will take a while to get into a new rhythm and we appreciate your patience as we move toward this goal.

Ventura Partners will be coming on board as our property managers over the next month. Their organization specializes in working with properties that cater to artists and small businesses. They have been a key participant in recent work with the artists at Hunters Point Shipyard and with the new projects developed by the Community Art Stabilization Trust in San Francisco. Additionally, they have a long history working to support small businesses and makers in other projects they manage for nonprofit owners and those with a community focus.

We are extremely happy that Sally Brown will be continuing in her role as on-site property manager and Robert Caldwell will continue to support facilities operations. Sally will remain your primary point of contact.

We are grateful for the skills and depth of knowledge that Sally brings to this work, and for the personal relationships that she has developed with you over the years.

Over the next few days and weeks, Ventura Partners will be working to answer questions and provide you with additional information. They will be sending a note in the next day or so that provides practical details relating to their role and other specific information about rent payments and other logistics.

Thank you for the work that you do to bring vibrancy to American Steel and to the City of Oakland. We look forward to new opportunities to join forces in this endeavor.

Here’s more background from a Chronicle article from February 2016.


(Top photo by John Mosbaugh)

17 Comments on “American Steel Has Been Sold: Here’s What It Means for Bay Area Artists

  • AmSteel Tenant says:

    I’m a tenant at American Steel, and I should say that there is some debate internally on exactly how “good” this news is.

    11 West owns several properties in West Oakland. Their main focus is job creation, not artists. Although they routinely chat to a lot of tenants here, they do not appear to prioritize artists in the space. Instead, they are more interested in the businesses that inhabit the warehouse.

    They’ve pulled Karen from her leadership role at the building. This is baffling as she has been one of the most influential members of the Bay Area arts community ensuring heavy industry space in an ever-gentrifying Oakland, and having enough vision to turn an old husk of a warehouse with some kick ass cranes into a industrial arts centerpiece for the entire country.

    Many new rules have been enforced – no storage higher than 12′, no secondary roof structures (i.e. offices or decks) inside the building, and limited driveway access due to newly installed safety gates limit the usability of the space.

    Many upgrades are planned under the new ownership. Although this is badly needed, and amazing that it is happening, there is no clarity on what this will do for rent pricing.

    Lastly, no more art events or parties will be taking place at AmSteel in the medium term future…including things like First Fridays, private gallery openings, and big events like the Mayor’s inauguration, and of course Precompression.

    Although the purchase is probably the best we could have hoped for, I think it isn’t accurate to assume that this is really a “good” thing. American Steel is changing, and its sad to see a truly unique space which pushed artists and industry professionals into rubbing elbows with each other get turned into a small company incubator.

    A lot of this is still preliminary as the sale really did just happen, but that is the general feel around here – no one is really cheery right now.

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    • Nesdon Booth says:

      How could “…the purchase [being] probably the best we could have hoped for,…” be anything but “a ‘good’ thing”?

      Careful how whining about not having perfect can sometimes spoil the goodness. You are lucky ass mofos, and you should work with these folks if you can. You could have gotten Brooklyn Basin like 54th Ave has.

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      • Losgut says:

        With all due respect Nesdon you don’t really know what’s going on around the building, and we don’t know much either. From my point of view as a tenant there is every reason to suspect that they are implementing changes in a gradual way so as to make the place intolerable for the existing tenants with a view toward future higher-paying small businesses. This way they can empty the building of us one by one, avoiding all the bad press and protests that would occur if they evicted us en masse. Speculation, I know, but consider that the last property 11west bought in west Oakland, right near by on Peralta st., was emptied of all its artists and tenants under the excuse of “safety”, after multiple promises to “find a situation that would work for all of us” somehow didn’t pan out. Some 26 year old idiot representative of theirs spoke at a meeting we had at Amsteel. There is no reason I can see to trust them at all, I have some very angry roommates who we absorbed after they lost their home of 15 years thanks to 11 west.

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      • Nesdon Booth says:

        You’re right, Losgut, I don’t really know anything about this except what I’ve read here. I was mostly struck by the oxymoronic statement that I referred to: that the best possible outcome was not good.

        Good luck to you all. Am Steel is indeed a a great resource it would be tragic to lose.

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      • Nitro says:

        I’ve seen the same bs on the east coast. Do you really believe they paid 29 mil $ for you to sleep tight ? I concur with Losgut. Smooth transition….smoooooth talking..put them asleep….and eventually they’ll wake up in a gentrified environment and just leave for free….
        Seen the same thing happening back East…Hoboken, Brooklyn, Harlem, just to name a few…Pay up[and be rated a “commercial artist”] or be gone…

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  • Losgut says:

    Eviction and turnover is one thing, but potentially being lied to our faces about their real plans on top of that is quite another, and makes it even more difficult to gauge just what to do in this situation. They kept using this word “community” over and over in the meeting, talking about how much they care about us and the community they’re trying to help. It was all I could do to not puke in my hand and throw it. Anyway…

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    • Nitro says:

      WAKE UP! 29 mil$$$$$ “investment” is not a mother Theresa charity donation. Time to move to Fly Range ! NOW! The Oakland dream is over my friends…What can I say?…

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  • Not a solution to the issues, but think about Reno as an option. Our city embraces art and the Burning Man culture and real estate is dirt cheap compared to the Bay.
    Much Love and hoping you find a solution.
    Jungle Jim

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  • Android says:

    lotz of mis-info, more q’s than a’s. 26 yo company pup to scared to say much to da angry mobb. Peralta is industrial not rezidential but lot of people lived in that scary crack house. Good riddance to that. Angels or devils don’t know yet but we r still here no roof structures lots of dust safety gates but no rent raises. but why no karen?

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  • Android says:

    big broker sayz ‘We are currently helping with the repositioning of the asset with one of our leasing experts in the Oakland office.”
    WTF? Nitro, Losgut – are they ‘repositioning’ us out in may? cant afford to move round here dont like reno
    http://www.cbre.us/o/oakland/teams/pcg-east-bay-880/Pages/significant-transactions.aspx

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    • Tabasco says:

      We still have NIMBY. As far as I know, they aren’t on the chopping block.

      Or we all take over Vallejo! They’re primed and ready to have artists transform their downtown.

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  • jim mason says:

    the logic of private capital with lots of zeroes is nearly always brutal. even if the intents are good, the end drivers tend to require optimization of single bottom line return. i hope we are in a rare exception here.

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  • JV says:

    First SF, and now Oakland has become inhospitable to artists and anyone else not fortunate enough to afford outrageous rents and mortgages. The forces of gentrification will not stop until everything that made the place so appealing is pushed out, leaving a gleaming, soulless hull. It’s time to pack up and move to more hospitable climes. Lots of room up here in Sacramento.

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  • AmSteelRez says:

    With all the talk over the last few years of of turning AmSteel into a Costco, I’m glad it’s over and we can stay for now. Really is the best outcome I could hope for. Let’s just see if they’ll fix the roof unlike the last slumlord.

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  • Lazy boy says:

    Sad day. Did they buy the building next door also? Some of the best parties ever have been there. So glad i got to go to pre comp this year. Rip old american steel.

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  • HEY ARTISTS. Come to Memphis. It’s cheap as fuck here, great music, good people, and great food.
    & The city is coming up with more and more incentives for artists and musicians. And we have the National Ornamental Metal Museum! Ooooh! And lots of little tiny art students to abduct to our purposes!

    xoxo
    -Pocket Rocket

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