First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley

A rendering of the Residences at Berkeley Plaza as seen from Shattuck Avenue. Courtesy of HSR Berkeley Investments

A rendering of the Residences at Berkeley Plaza as seen from Shattuck Avenue. Courtesy of HSR Berkeley Investments

A Los Angeles real estate group submitted an application Thursday to build Berkeley’s first high-rise in 40 years — a 17-story luxury apartment complex on Harold Way that connects to the historic Hink’s Department Store on Shattuck Avenue.

HSR Berkeley Investments wants to spend as much as $200 million to construct a 180-foot tall tower with 355 residences next to the property that now houses the Shattuck Cinemas and various offices.

The new apartments, called The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, are designed to appeal to empty nesters and high-income professionals, such as those who work at booming San Francisco technology companies like Twitter and, but who are having difficulty landing an apartment in the city.

In addition to the cinemas (which used to hold Hink’s Department Store) the property, formally known as Berkeley Center, houses Habitot Children’s Museum, a Starbucks, and offices. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza sits on the block, but was not included in the transaction.

The complex, right by the downtown BART station, will be an L-shaped building with one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. There will be three towers, one five or six stories high, another 13 stories tall, and a third on the corner of Allston and Harold Way that reaches 17 stories, according to Mark Rhoades, a former city of Berkeley planner whose company, Mark Rhoades Planning Group, will lead the entitlement process.

The new complex will also feature a rooftop garden, a fitness facility, a conference center, community room spaces, and four levels of underground parking, according to a press release issued Friday by HSR Berkeley Investments. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza, which sits on the same block but has different owners, will share some of the amenities.

The new units abutting Harold Way will be linked to the historic Hink’s building on Shattuck and the Hotel Shattuck Plaza by a 12,000 square foot, publicly accessible central courtyard with café seating, public art, lush landscaping, and art and music shows. The public will be able to enter the plaza from four different directions, including a refurbished entryway from the old Hink’s Department store.

“It’s going to create an urban experience that doesn’t exist right now in Berkeley,” said Rhoades.

A rendering of the view of Harold Way if The Residences at Berkeley Way are approved. Courtesy HSR Berkeley Investments

A rendering of the view of Harold Way if The Residences at Berkeley Way are approved. Courtesy HSR Berkeley Investments

The development, if approved, would dramatically transform Harold Way, a block-long street running between Kittredge Avenue and Allston Way. Currently, one side the of the street houses three structures belonging to Berkeley’s Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist community, including Dharma College and the Tibetan Buddhist bookstore. The other side of the street is the back of the Shattuck Cinemas and is mostly a blank wall. Under the plan submitted Thursday, Harold Way will become a string of stores and cafés, part of 12,000 square feet of retail in the building.

“There are a lot of spaces that are dead and are not being used,” said Gretchen Barth, who is working with HSR Berkeley Investments. “We hope to revive that area.”

The east side of Harold Way. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The east side of Harold Way. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The project will likely face some opposition from preservationists, including Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, said Rhoades. To build it, the Shattuck Cinemas will have to leave. The developer wants to tear down the rear of the cinema, part of an addition designed by the architect Walter Ratcliff Jr. and constructed in 1923. Even though Berkeley has other examples of Ratcliff’s commercial buildings – including the Wells Fargo tower on Shattuck, preservationists have expressed concern about losing a landmarked structure, said Rhoades.

Hill Street Realty, which is the manager of HSR Berkeley Investments, bought the 92,000 square foot property from Marin County businessman Roy Nee less than a month ago. The group paid $20 million, or $217 a square foot, in the deal.

One of reasons the deal was appealing was because Berkeley voters approved Measure R in 2010, a broker for the deal told the San Francisco Business Times. Measure R led to the adoption of the Downtown Area Plan which permits the construction of up to three 180-foot buildings and four 120-foot buildings. (Two of those are reserved for the University of California)

To receive approval, the five non-university taller buildings must show “significant community benefits beyond what is otherwise required,” and provide affordable housing, social services, green features, open space, transportation demand management, job training and employment opportunities.

The Residences at Berkeley Plaza will conform with those requirements, according to the press release. Benefits and amenities will include:

  • Transit-oriented housing designed to bring consumers into downtown
  • Targeted LEED Gold rating
  • Generous mid-block plaza with public art and accessible for all surrounding streets
  • Activation of all surrounding streets with new retail shops and human-scaled architecture.
  • Transit passes for all households and employees
  • On-site affordable housing
  • Underground parking including spaces for electric vehicles and spaces for smaller urban size cars
  • Extensive on-site bicycle storage facility
  • Rooftop terraces and garden for residents
  • Significant increase in property tax revenue and other revenues to the City
  • Structural and operational benefits to the Hotel Shattuck Plaza.

The development should also enhance the experience of guests at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, said Rhoades. They will be able to use the plaza, the high-end fitness facility, the conference center and get access to underground parking.

The architects for the project are MVEI Partners Architects. PGA Design of Oakland will design the courtyard plaza and the other open spaces.

Read the press release about The Residences at Berkeley Plaza.

Large downtown property changes hands [11.28.12]
After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan [03.21.12]

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  • francis

    Today’s luxury housing is regular housing a few decades later. Just like there wouldn’t be used cars if no one built new cars.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Alternately, you could adapt to the new circumstances.

    I was just walking around downtown. It looks better than it has in years. There are interesting restaurants, shops, and there are lots of people walking around spending money. The ambassadors are helpful and are working to make the place as inviting and tidy as it can be.

    All of this is true despite the people who shrilly warned that Fascism had come to Berkeley.

  • Carolyn

    Who besides the developer gets anything good out of this? ( I, too, remember the promises of Patrick Kennedy.) The fact that these LA folks bought the property doesn’t mean that they have any idea AT ALL what downtown Berkeley needs. Long live the Shattuck Cinema!

  • >Who besides the developer gets anything good out of this?
    500 people living in the 350 new units?
    People who breathe cleaner air because of fewer car commutes compared to alternatives?
    Owners of downtown stores and restaurants?
    Customers of downtown stores and restaurants who have more to choose from?
    Architects and construction workers who design and build the project?

  • Howie Mencken

    “Who besides the developer gets anything good out of this?”
    Maybe, the whole city.

    500 residents of substantial means and influence; Living above the ‘People’s Parklet’ that’s moved downtown – what might they do about it? (hint: a new expensive broom sweeps very clean)

    They might up the financial stakes in local elections and win enough seats to end this “Rossmoor for Radicals” phase we’re mired in.

  • i_witness

    Half the time I am in downtown is to go to the movies, and usually at the Shattuck Cinemas. Nothing mentioned in the proposal will be as big of a draw. While I have no problem with the height, the removal of any historic structure and like the proposed changes on the ground, removing another downtown draw does not help this proposal.

  • PJ

    From an urban design standpoint, the east side of Harold Way (as seen in Frances Dinkelspiel’s photo) doesn’t do well in terms of active edges. In other words, the lack of windows and doors make that side of the building dull, uninteresting, and uninviting.

  • Ms M

    why should berkeley be the dumping ground for everyone who wants to tear down (or sell) our beautiful, historic buildings?

  • Joe ag

    Shut up

  • Seegay

    If you are affected this way by a retail place to which you voluntarily go, there are much deeper personal problems at hand, I presume. Seek psychotherapy.

  • John hate

    Be quiet

  • Trevor balls

    Good idea man

  • Twill Monkey

    I truly do not understand why these projects are even considered. They aren’t very imaginative, and by that I mean buildings that aren’t so massive, so tall, so lacking in green space or the shadow they cast. Someone just told me that there is a 34 story building planned that the mayor pushed through, but that does like he might have not had his story straight. I also don’t understand how anyone would even consider a six-storey block of student housing adjacent to senior housing. Doesn’t anyone care that it could actually jeopardize the health and welfare of the residents? Some days I wish I were a lawyer…