A storied local bar that had its fair share of brawls and cop calls could soon become an after-school hangout for local Arab Americans.
The West County Board of Zoning Adjustments approved a conditional use permit Thursday evening in Hayward for the Arab American Cultural Center, which plans to turn the bar into a different sort of gathering place.
Few could have missed the 2,900-square-foot facility at the interesection of East Lewelling and Mission boulevards. In its previous incarnation, the building was home to Union Jack Pub, a popular biker bar where brawls were common and police were never far behind.
Carol Duran co-owns the building with her sister, Beth Bowers. The two recently inherited the building from their father, who had owned it since the 1940s.
Duran attended Thursday's meeting and said she hopes the center will bring life to an area that has been hit hard by vandalism and crime. Last year alone the former pub suffered $13,000 worth of damage to its electrical system and wiring, she said.
“We feel this is the best use in maintaining the place and not calling the sheriff's department every Friday night,” Duran said. “This is not a money-making operation. It’s a community service.”
Duran said she has already invested more than $200,000 in improving the property from the inside out. However, the zoning board requested she work with the Alameda County Redevelopment Agency in making further improvements.
Matt Weber of the redevelopment agency said the agency had worked closely with Duran for the past two years in leasing out the property and making plans for improvements. After countless attempts to attract a tenant to convert the space into a grocery store or other retail outfit, it settled on the cultural center.
The agency hopes to include the center as part of its facade improvement program, adding grant-funded signage and landscaping out front near the parking lot area.
Although some have criticized the center as out of character with its immediate surroundings, mostly small businesses and fast food restaurants, Weber said he sees the center as a benefit to the area.
“The intent for [the Center] is to really revitalize a commercial corridor,” Weber said. “A vacant space can make a retail area stale, plus bring forth a nuisance—as it has.”
Monnir Morar is the tenant of the building and plans to be the director of the center. However, the zoning board is requiring the group to get non-profit status from the state.
Commissioner Jewell Spalding said that requirement has to do with responsibility.
“As a loose group, you could walk away at any time,” Spalding said. She, along with Chairwoman Dawn Clark-Montenegro and Commissioner Frank Peixoto, attended and voted during the meeting.
Center organizers plan to staff the space with parent volunteers from the local Arab community between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. It is meant to serve as a hangout for members of the community, especially younger children, as an after-school activity or program. Between 50 and 70 people are expected to attend programs there.
Aside from making Arab American art, music and culture available to all in the community, Morar says the center will also give local Arab Americans a voice.
“We could be reached or explain some of the misunderstandings of our culture,” said Morar.
About a dozen supporters for the Arab American Community Center attended the meeting. Half of them, including Hassan Sharif, urged the commissioners to approve the permit for the center, saying it would be a refreshing addition to the community that has been known more for crime and vandalism.
“We know that if you interject this kind of life in the neighborhood, it will change it all,” Sharif said.