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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  • John Holland

    I tend to be oriented towards less development, but I have to say that in many of the recent controversial projects, the designers and architects have been very thoughtful. I might not always agree with aspects of their designs… or even the entire project. But when I think about this building, the recent Safeway, Trader Joe’s, the new “Berkeley Hotel Designs”… none of these architects were just putting up boxes, and seemed to be doing their best in creating attractive, usable spaces while juggling a cacophony of public opinion.

    Thanks for the talent and hard work that goes into these important buildings that brand our city.

  • Andrew Oldham

    I was all for it until they said Shattuck Cinema has to leave. No thanks.

  • guest

    In recent years we have lost the
    U.C. Theater, the Acts 1 and 2, The Fine Arts (remember when Patrick Kennedy
    promised that a movie theater would go back into that space, I sure do) and the
    Oaks. If you go downtown at night you will see the streets filled with
    people, so many of them there to attend the films at the Shattuck and the
    California. Those people patronize the restaurants, bars and parking lots
    when they come downtown to see a movie. For many people that I
    know the library and the movie theaters are the only reasons they ever come

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I agree, I think it’s a bad move to make the theater leave. It will contribute to a deadening downtown, not a revival. And I’m very skeptical about selling these apartments to “empty nesters”. Downtown Berkeley would be a hard sell to that demographic with its huge homeless population, lack of easy access to a grocery store (yes, I know about Trader Joes but I don’t think of it as a real grocery store) and lack of diverse retail. And look at that drawing–they have a cafe in it, which is about the last thing we need another one of in Downtown Berkeley.

  • Looks great. Downtown Berkeley doesn’t need 3 movie theaters in a 3 block radius. It does need more housing though.

  • I like the high density residential project right next to Bart. And with all the new people moving in, I do believe local businesses will benefit. Lots of new customers.

    I wish the project all the best… Hope Berkeley does not hold true to its most-nostalgic-place-on-earth reputation and I get to see this go up in my lifetime.

  • Devin

    I’d at least like to see them hire a local architect for the building portion. Many of the thoughtful projects you listed were designed by local architecture firms that have an intimate knowledge of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Let’s hope MVEI Partners, a firm out of Irvine, will be as conscientious. Otherwise, I agree with you that it looks inviting, and not just a developer-friendly box to make money.

  • R. Jay Wallace

    I think it’s great to see a project that will increase density in our downtown, so close to transit, university, and other destinations. But the loss of the cinemas is a concern: the Shattuck has strong programming, and they are one of the few reliable sources of evening activity in that part of town. Let’s hope the project doesn’t cause the typical Berkeley NIMBY freakout…

  • More “luxury” housing though? That’s all anyone builds nowadays

  • Bill N

    I like the idea but would like to see something more specific about the type of ground floor retail. I’m not sure what would make it besides a replacement Starbucks and what about Habitot would they provide space for that? They could be held to providing space for a nice multi screen theater (a good foot traffic generator) but we could be left with a Patrick Kennedy switcheroo!

  • E Warren

    Well said, R. Jay Wallace

  • The Sharkey

    The recent Safeway is part of an architectural “program” – go look at any other new Safeway, they all look more or less the same.

  • The Sharkey

    Shattuck Cinema is the only decent theater in Berkeley. The California needs to be completely gutted and reconfigured, and United Artists Berkeley is dirty, has old projecting equipment, dirty screens, and needs updating badly.

    If Shattuck Cinema goes, so does my movie-watching money. I’m not going to pay $10.50 to watch a blurry movie in uncomfortable seats, and I don’t think I’m the only one who has this opinion.

  • E Warren

    Although I share your concerns about the loss of the theater (especially because it is the one generally use), I disagree about the attractiveness of Downtown Berkeley for “empty nesters.” In fact, yesterday my wife and I took BART from s. berkeley to downtown to attend a play at BHS and walked by a new apartment complex right behind Wells Fargo an this prompted a discussion in which we agreed that we would like to live in an apartment downtown once our teen leaves home! In terms of distance from a grocery store, are you kidding? Just think of all the boomers who live in the hills at least a couple of curvy miles from a store and drive into town to shop…

  • The Sharkey

    Agreed. Shattuck Cinema is a major draw downtown, and the only theater in town that ever seems to show foreign or arthouse movies. Losing either of the other theaters would be no big deal, but Shattuck Cinema is the best one we have.

  • The Sharkey

    On a side note, I was going to say that it was nice seeing some toned-down, more rational posts from you for a change.

    Then I made the mistake of looking at your recent post history. Yikes.

  • Persepolis was the last picture I saw there, one third of the screen was out of focus, I complained w/o result and never went back. In my book that complex gets a D.

  • dubble

    The only thing denser than Berkeley right now is the brains of those leaders who support ever greater density. Just spent a horrid hour trying to do 2 errands downtown, with aggressive drivers, pedestrians walking in front of cars in the rain, no parking, double parkers, and meter maids circling the area like hawks. Oakland, Albany, Emeryville, El Cerrito, etc., are all dramatically less dense than Berkeley. Let them build these boondoggles in those low density towns rather than continuing to ruin Berkeley with noisy, pollution-filled, expensive apartments on major traffic corridors that only degrade the city (with darkness, noise, crowding, dirt, traffic).

    I saw let’s put some highrises in the Claremont neighborhood or the Berkeley hills, THEN will see all these NIMBYs go wacko (density is only good as long as someone else has to deal with its deleterious effects).

  • berkeleyite

    Love the Shattuck cinema! Dont let them tear it down for upscale housing!

  • The Sharkey

    Funny, I saw it there in perfect focus with a digital projector.
    Ever since the remodel it’s been better than any other theater in Berkeley by a long shot.

  • berkeleykev

    The Trader Joe’s is pretty much a massive block-wide box. Yeah, it has “wall architecture”, applied faux columns and whatnot, but it’s a massive dense box.

  • MonkeyChicka

    Yes, what about Habitot???

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    Bay Street invades Berkeley. I’m down with that. But touch Shattuck Cinemas and there will be Hell to pay!

  • We have solid heavy traffic on Dwight Way, which is 36 feet wide. In a split-second my pup ran outside and was hit by a car the other night. She will live, but only with excellent care and thousands of dollars. Dwight Way doesn’t take prisoners. Each year I have to call the city to pick up dead animals. I became involved with traffic improvements after an elderly neighbor was hit and thrown I don’t know how far. There are costs to all of this.

  • Marcia T

    What does/do the owner[s] of Shattuck Cinema say about this plan? Will the developers help them to find (and finance) a suitable new venue in the neighborhood? The development sounds promising in itself although many more details are needed and Shattuck Cinema’s survival must be included as part of any agreement. There needs to be a comprehensive downtown Berkeley development plan — including provisions for traffic, public transportation, parking, pedestrian zones, parklets etc — that would show how this development fits within it. Right now downtown Berkeley is a huge mess and a civic disgrace. It could be an urban environment that sets a new standard for other places in the Bay Area. I’d welcome credible movement in that direction.

  • Tizzielish

    I live downtown, very close to this possible development. It is a one mile walk to Berkley Bowl from Shattuck Cinema and about 1.1 miles to Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s is under half mile away. How close does grocery have to be if folks can’t go a mile — what is that, six or eight blocks?!! I walk to Berkeley Bowl and Shattuck Cinema all the time. And in a transit-oriented new world, buy a good cart. You know how strollers have gotten fancier and fancier? A business opportunity will be, I predict, selling good grocery carts. I have one that I actually use for my laundry but once in awhile, like when I bought a new big blender from Sur la Table, I used my cart on the bus. It sometimes seems like human beings are forgetting that walking a mile is normal and healthy. Why is easy access to a grocery store important EXCEPT for health: rethink things and walk a little. Private time with one’s self or life partner or kids plus exercise!

  • Tizzielish

    I share concern about losing the cinema and I imagine many downtown businesses will have a strong opinion about this. This is what we get with that stupid downtown plan that approved so many tall buildings — I bet few downtown business association types that endorsed that downtown plan imagined the Shattuck Cinema being one of the first ramifications for the new plan: almost all foot traffic in evenings and weekends near Shattuck & Kittredge is related to Shattuck Cinema and the other cinemas but Shattuck is the best. All the businesses that rely on foot traffic: mostly restaurants, cafes, coffeeshops, treats — will be impacted.

  • Tizzielish

    The new Safeway deadens that block on Shattuck. Trader Joe’s building is ugly. You wrote “attrative, usable spaces’. The TJ”s parking lot is a nightmare and local traffic and parking is too. Sheesh.

  • Tizzielish

    What about all the empty retail spaces? Oxford Plaza, at Kittredge & Oxford has been open four years and has struggled to rent its retail space. OP’s owners moved their offices to retail space which was intended to be retail and generate sales taxes cause they couldn’t rent it and some of the retail still empty.

  • Tizzielish

    I bet Habitot will be able to find new space, altho maybe not downtown. Is downtown essential to Habitot? I know nothing about it. I have always had the impression Habitot landed where it did cause the space was awkward and, thus, affordable to them. parking must be awful for Habitot customers.

  • foobar

    You poor thing, all those pedestrians getting in the way of your important errands. It’s tragic. And then the nerve of the meter maids, trying to force you to pay for parking. Don’t they know it’s your right to park anywhere, for free?

  • I drive to the new TJ’s about every other day. The parking lot works fine, although sometimes a small amount of patience is required (but try parking at Berkeley Bowl East when TJ’s is crowded…) Proximity to Berkeley High has also been a big plus.

  • I’ll reserve judgment on the architectural heritage aspect of the back wall of the old Hinks building ’till after I see what’s there and have read the arguments for why it’s important to preserve it.

    But if too many cars downtown is the big issue, then maybe the real problem is the four new levels of underground parking. We can do without the cars, but we desperately need more people living downtown. Between the online shopping and the big box stores, the density required to keep downtown retail viable has gone way up. Residential high-rise downtown is long overdue, and let’s not confuse too many cars with too many people. We CAN have more people without more cars.

    The movie theater will be a loss, but in the long run I think it’s a mistake to dictate land use on that level of detail. The property is evidently worth more as housing than as movie entertainment, and as long as it’s consistent with the zoning then I don’t think we have any standing to do top-down retro-active planning just because we like one kind of privately owned commercial use more than another.

  • Okay, we can fix this plan easily enough.

    No new parking, but use those four lower floors instead for the new home of the Shattuck Theater.

    (And, not having built-in parking will take the wind out of the “luxury” sails and make this project a little more suitable for a wider range of residents. If someone really wants to live right downtown and needs their car nearby, they can pay market rate for a space in a nearby garage structure that’s not subsidized involuntarily by everyone else in the building.)

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Excellent point. Funny to have a stats of the art fitness facility equipped, I’m sure, with treadmills, but then not use said fitness functionally.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Right. I know empty nesters who were living in apartments on Oxford, near Vine, where there’s much less to do. Downtown has theater, a better farmers market, music, and faster access to SF than some Muni lines. The Twitterati will find it appealing for the same reason.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Right, and lets bear in mind that demographically people are watching more and more films at home.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    There is a plan….

  • Downtown Berkeleyan

    Democracy in action- we just voted for this in November. My (carfree) husband and I rent downtown and would be very happy to see more housing downtown! We’re getting to the phase of looking to buy a condo and there arent many options for that in (safe) transit-rich areas in the east bay. Downtown Berkeley does not need 3 movie theaters within a 1 block radius, with most people using Netflix, Hulu and such these days.

    If you don’t like the new plan, you can always band together with the other Berkeley NIMBYs, buy the property and rent to whom you’d like.

  • Bill N

    I talked to the TJ’s store manager once while in line at the store and she told me that this TJ’s had the second highest walk in customer base in the area, next to one in SF (not sure how they know that). I live near TJ’s shop there once a week or so and walk by usually once a day and find that the parking lot is usually uncrowded except in the evening during the evening commute after work.

  • Mary

    Downtown Berkeley definitely needs some renovation, but it since so many people want the theater to stay, it seems like the plan could be modified.

  • The Sharkey

    Sounds like a good compromise to me. It’s too bad they aren’t planning on doing this to the building with the Unites Artists theater in it, since that theater seems to be patronized less. Rent control issues with the current building?

  • The Sharkey

    The downtown plan wasn’t voted on in November.
    Shattuck Cinema is the nicest theater in Berkeley.
    These would be apartments, not condos.

    Try Arpeggio, perhaps?

  • Fred Dodsworth

    Arpeggio has all the aesthetic appeal of a federal prison. I think it’s hilarious that Arpeggio is positing itself as a luxury residence — maybe in some post-apocalyptic nightmare but I wouldn’t pay section 8 housing rates for that hideous architectural atrocity.

  • Fred Dodsworth

    Once again Tom Bate’s wrecking crew visits Berkeley’s commercial corridor. This project will cripple the downtown area for at least a decade before it returns a penny to our coffers. Why the hell are there so many empty storefronts in our commercial corridors? Ya think it’s because the rents might be too high? Ya think the rents might be too high because too many of our property owners are waiting for their own $20 million dollar buy offs? After Berkeley’s awful Downtown Plan was forced on us by Tom Bates-Helen Burkes and Mark Rhodes, District Six Councilwoman Susan Wengraf personally told me not to worry, the economy was in the tank and no one would build anything in the downtown for decades. Yeah. And any minute I expect Sam Zell to announce has similar plans for the block bounded by University and Berkeley Way- Shattuck Ave and Walnut Street. Bye-bye Ace Hardware, its jobs, services and tax revenues… and if you still believe anything any politician or a developer says, I’ve got a great deal on bridge I’d like to sell you.

  • eeeg

    Tom Bates is a blight upon our community – his plans are enriching his cronies a-like mark rhoades – talk about a revolving door. There are too many big buildings, too many big fat developers, too few public amenities. All development should be required to provide public amenities – ones we can really use – like playgrounds, community centers, skating rinks (i’m biased), etc. No more large construction without building something for everyone!

  • Fred

    Equity Residential’s (Sam Zell) project, Acheson Commons, was given final
    Approval by ZAB on Thursday and will
    Go before Council
    In February. Landmarks Preservation and Design Review committees also
    Gave their go-ahead so expect to see construction on Berkeley’s largest ever housing development start in late 2013.

  • Howie Mencken

    OH HAPPY DAY! Many reasons to rejoice…The magnificent force of capitalistic ambition is once again the antidote to failed social engineering.

  • The Sharkey

    Yet theaters still get sufficient attendance nuumbers to stay ptofitable, so clearly a lot of people are still going to the movies.

  • Completely_Serious

    If you want a theater, you can 1. buy a piece of land and build one, then rent to one of the mega-chains or run an independent theater a al the U.C. or Northside, or 2. (and this is the best option): Use your socialist voting power to elect new council members, then get them to pass a law that requires Pauline Kael to return to Berkeley and open her theater on Telegrapha, or 3. go to Emeryville.