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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  • Erica_JS

    Well, they tried to put some housing in West Berkeley and it was defeated by those same NIMBYS – the “I got mine, now lock the gates” crowd. Alas.

  • And with or without home theaters, the downtown movie theater is a social thing for a lot of people. (My son’s a senior at BHS, and weekend evenings with friends at the movies is a big deal for him. Me, I haven’t set foot in the place for decades.)

    It would be great to see if some sort of development-approval horse trading could preserve the theater, but again, I don’t think we (meaning the City) have legal standing to dictate how the property is used beyond what’s already in the zoning code and the Downtown Plan.

  • It’s a mistake to mandate ground floor retail if the market does not support the storefronts that are already available. If there is retail, I think the developers and their prospective tenants are in the best position to guess what will be viable. (Not that I trust developers for much else…)

  • I would agree with some of that, if you had also said there were too many cars.

  • (We are all buying a bridge as I type. It’s kind of overpriced, but it will include a nice bike lane.)

    Ya think maybe the empty storefronts are because people are shopping online or in the big box stores? Ya think maybe more people living downtown will support a few more local businesses?

  • Rob Wrenn

    I agree that keeping the movie theatre would be better than the parking. Having four floors of parking would totally kill any claim that this would be a “green” project. Only one parking space per three units is required anyway. Car sharing vehicle are already available downtown for people who need to drive occasionally; there are plenty of people who would be willing to live without a car so close to a BART station and multiple bus routes. Losing the movie theatre would offset any benefits from this project; keeping them should be an absolute priority and requirement for approval of this project. It would obviously be deterimental otherwise. The Shattuck Cinemas are nicer than the UC theaters, and do bring people to downtown. The project should also be required to be LEED gold at a minimum; that shouldn’t just be a target. In return for getting 17 stories that City can require a lot from the developer and should do so.

  • habitoter

    Habitot highers almost only work-study students who attend UC Berkeley. Because Habitot is a non-profit, they can hire work-study students and half of the salary they pay us, gets reimbursed by the government. Although my boss spends so much time talking about how we need to find a venue, I’m not sure the practicality of moving. Personally, if Habitot were to move, I think it would be hard pressed to find work study students willing to make the commute. And there is literally no way Habitot would survive paying its employees in full. =[

  • Cassandra

    I am mystified why you think that developers are in the best position to guess what will be viable. Three of the most recently completed projects in Berkeley were foreclosed upon. Two have been sold for less than the cost to build them (in one case A LOT less) and the third is still owned by the bank. Clearly the developers of these projects hadn’t a clue what would be viable.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Good points, both of you.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Except “many people” don’t own the property and so don’t have a say in what the owners do with it.

  • Completely_Serious

    Reelected by a ton! Must be a real blight!

  • Cassandra

    The Arpeggio, like all of the recent apartment construction in Berkeley, is “luxury” in price only. It is being frantically advertised for rent, starting at $2100 up to nearly $6000 per month. The vast majority of the units are “one-bedroom” except that the “bedroom” happens to be open to the kitchen! (not my idea of luxury).

  • I totally agree that we need movie theaters downtown. But I should like to point out that they are not big moneymakers; they make most of their money from popcorn, candy, and pop. So from a business point of view, a movie theater (like the drive-ins of yore and parking lots) are just something of a placeholder on the real estate landscape. Nevertheless, they are very important for the vitality of Berkeley’s downtown.

  • Nicnale

    Excellent! Bring high-density housing where it should be, in the city center, close to transit and retail. Yay. (Too bad about the theaters, but maybe with enough squawking, that can be mitigated.)

  • Charles_Siegel

    I walk to TJs, and the cashiers there tell me that most customers walk there. We should be planning for the convenience of people who walk, not just for those who drive.

    Parking there is fine most of the time, and if people must shop by car at times when the parking here is too crowded, they can just go to the El Cerrito TJs, like they did before this one was built.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “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,”

    They don’t know a basic principle of urban design. Fabric buildings like this these should be roughly consistent in height, rather than having one sticking up above the others.

    Traditional cities have a consistent urban fabric, and that is one reason that people find them so appealing. Modernist developments have the same sort of jagged fabric as this proposal, and that is one reason that people find them so ugly.

    I could back the project very enthusiastically 1) if they were willing to reduce the total mass a bit and make the buildings consistent – say three buildings of about 9 stories each, similar in height to the Gaia building 2) if they were willing to reduce the amount of parking and 3) if they came up with some decent design, rather than building the great architectural cliche of our time, the glass box.

    It would definitely be good to get those added residents and stores downtown, and it would definitely be good to make Harold Way into a more interesting street rather than having a blank wall facing it.

    But they should be able to give us those benefits and also give us good architecture and good urban design – rather than this throwback to the 1960s.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Developers assume that condos require one parking space per unit, while rental housing can get by with one space per three units.

    I think that assumption is wrong. There are lots of people living in condos in San Francisco who do not have cars, and downtown Berkeley has similar appeal to those San Francisco neighborhoods. If the building includes some zip-cars, it could get by with much less car ownership.

    I agree that it would be better to keep the theater than to have this excessive amount of parking, and I agree that all the parking destroys any claim that this is a green project.

  • Mystified? It’s simple and obvious: They stand to lose a lot of money if they guess wrong. Still, they don’t always guess right, and sometimes even the most clued-in developers can’t predict the externals (e.g. recession).

  • >make the buildings consistent – say three buildings of about 9 stories each

    Mileage varies on this one. I think three buildings of the same height would be ugly compared to one tall tower and two lesser towers. (Would the Pyramids look better if they were all the same size?)

    One of the interesting simulations we ran in one of my city planning courses was to simulate a building height zoning rule in which maximum height was something like 2.5 times the average height of the existing buildings in adjacent lots. After a generation the skyline had a kind of “castles-on-the-hill” look to it, with clusters of towers. Very attractive to my eyeballs. But then, I like Wurster Hall so what do I know…

  • Howie Mencken

    Synergies galore! The post office becomes an up scale Famers Market!

  • saingracesarah

    I haven’t noticed any commentary on “affordable”housing. Yes, I would like to move outta the public transit-free Hills zone and increase my residential walk score, but at what cost? Price the downtown apartments and you quickly realize affordability is a lie created by mighty developers trying to cash out while the 99% soon-to-be retired baby boomers living on fixed incomes are left salivating for the luxury and convenience of accessible transit, stores, community and services.

  • Phil Morton

    What will happen with the Bikestation? With that have to leave along with the theater?

    Does HSR have any proposals for mitigation?

    Could Landmark take over the spaces at UC and Acts I & II? A viable arts district includes movie theaters!

  • guest

    Actually, we do, because it is our city. whose city? OUR city. (i include you in this)

  • BerkeleyResident

    I dont agree with wither of these statements. I live on that block; traffic is no worse than it was before the TJs, and that building is far more attractive and useful than the old Kragen’s before it. The new safeway looks heck of a lot better than the old one, and its not much bigger.

  • BerkeleyResident


  • PragmaticProgressive

    As I’m sure you realize, our interest does not extend to every aspect of a private business’ decisions. So, if someone applies for permits to operate a concert hall, the city gets to evaluate whether parking, noise, egress, and other safety issues are dealt with. It doesn’t get to choose the playlist, the artists, or even the genre of music.

    If you want to see a particular business sustained, why not build a case for the stakeholders showing why your desired outcome is in their interests too? Save the NIMBY ammunition for when it’s really needed.

  • guest

    If we have a theater, and we like it, we can “lobby” (for lack of a better word) for it to be allowed to remain.
    If we don’t want a 17 story tower in our downtown, we can work against it.
    Just using the term NIMBY shows that you wouldn’t support that sort of thing ever, so…
    The stakeholders, who don’t live here and use this city, should not be the only ones deciding what happens here. That’s why we have permits & etc.

  • guest

    (can’t edit post)
    i mean to say: *so I’m not sure what you would want me to save it for?

  • Charles_Siegel

    Note that I said the buildings should be “consistent” and “about the same height” – not that they should be exactly the same height, which would be boring as you say.

    This is a principle of traditional urban design that has been adopted by the New Urbanists. As you probably know, they use form-based codes to create a consistent urban fabric. For example, on a neighborhood shopping street, they might require heights of three to five stories, like a traditional Main Street. Public buildings are exempted from the codes, as the town hall on a traditional Main Street would stand out above the fabric buildings (buildings with shopping and housing or offices above). The general consistency leaves room for lots of variation.

    There can also be a number of different fabrics to make the city as a whole more varied. My favorite example is the upper West Side of New York, where the north-south avenues have 12 to 14-story buildings, and the cross streets have roughly six story buildings. (But there is one glass tower on Broadway in the 90s that is much higher than 14 stories and that disrupts the fabric and makes the street uglier.)

    This sort of traditional design can give you a meaningful skyline – similar to what you have in traditional European cities, where the cathedral, town hall, other major buildings, and symbolic structures such as obelisks rise up above the fabric. We have it in Berkeley, where the campanile rises up above the fabric.

    By contrast, modernist urban design thinks of the skyline as a sort of abstract sculpture, and it gives us the impersonal, meaningless skyline that we have in modern cities. It sounds to me like you were taking that approach in your simulation. The result sounds good in theory and looks good on the drawing board – but not in the real world, where people live in cities rather than contemplating them as sculptures.

    PS: Though I disagree with you about this aspect of urban design, I enjoy your posts and I hope we can continue the discussion

  • Erik Schmitt

    I doubt if this sinks that low. Bay Street is one of the most poorly realized and insulting developments I’ve ever seen. I literally feel like I’m being treated with contempt when I go there. The team responsible for that should never work again.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Use your socialist voting power to elect new council members”

    Anyone who believes in zoning is a socialist. Obama is a socialist. Global warming is a socialist plot. Etc.

  • guest

    Apparently even electing new council members is socialist!!

  • Erik Schmitt

    Really well said. Although I’m wary of many of the New Urbanists because of their rejection of daring modren architecture I think in the case of Berkeley this is spot on. Berkeley does have a European urban fabric that should be enhanced whenever possible. The “meaningful skyline” you describe is not only visually appealing it is also functional. The structures rising above the fabric act as landmarks that aid in wayfinding as we navigate the city. This is crucial in creating an understandable urban landscape where people feel at ease.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Berkeley’s first high-rise in 40 years”

    Note that the last high-rise, built over 40 years ago, is what is now called the Chase Building on Shattuck and Center – and I have never heard anyone say that they like this building. Of course, the high-rise before that was the Wells Fargo building, which many people like.

    If this project is built as glass boxes, as proposed, it will be as sterile and impersonal an intrusion on the skyline as the Chase Building. I think the Chase Building was so widely disliked that the reaction against it was a major reason that NIMBYs dominated Berkeley’s discussion about development during the 1970s and 1980s.

    The design at ground level is good, but I hope the design at skyline level is improved dramatically. If we build a 17-story glass box, there could be such a strong reaction against it that NIMBYs could dominate the discussion again for the next 20 years.

    I am sure that Mayor Wallace Johnson was very proud of leaving the Chase Building as his legacy to Berkeley. I hope Mayor Bates thinks harder about the legacy that he leaves.

  • The Sharkey

    I didn’t say I liked it, Fred. I just suggested it as an option for a similar type of housing in roughly the same area.

    If you don’t like it, don’t live there! Crisis averted!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    If you lived here, you’d know that we already voted for a plan that includes buildings of this size.

  • The Sharkey

    Agreed 100%, Charles!

    I like what they’re doing at the pedestrian level, but the asymmetrical grouping of stark glass towers looks very out of place and inappropriate for the area. Reminds me of some of the newer (and ugly) buildings that have been going up in the SoMa near the base of the Bay Bridge.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Sign up if you need to edit.

    Save it for when someone tries to change the permit rules to, for example, allow 300 ft buildings.

    We already voted to allow the DAP: time to move on.

  • Thanks, but we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the skyline issue, at least as it applies to the central downtown core. Live-ability and “fabric” have at least as much to do with traffic, transportation and parking issues as with consistent building heights — which I still think are boring, even along upper Broadway in NYC. (The blocks with constant building heights are the boring ones. The towers between 99th and 100th look fine to my eyes, and in any case the real “fabric” of upper Broadway is all about restaurants and delis (my cousin owns two of them), not building heights. The skyline is pretty much irrelevant to the locals when densities are that high.)

  • It’s not clear which side of the skyline debate you are siding with here. I strongly agree that “structures rising above the fabric act as landmarks” and have value for that reason, especially if they are right in the downtown urban core and near other tall structures (which is true of this project). The aesthetic case against a building “sticking up above all the others” might make sense if this were proposed for South or West Berkeley, for example. And even then, there’s value in creating a satellite core, as would have been the case with the Peerless proposal on 4th.

  • I’m neutral on tall glass boxes. They don’t make people stop and think “what a nice glass box!” like more creative architecture does, but they don’t offend either. Actually I do like them to the extent that they bring all the benefits of high density to downtown, especially the very low carbon footprint per capita (and I use “glass box” in a generic sense – a real glass box implies a huge AC load).

    As for the high pricing, we can address that and several other problems simultaneously by cutting out those four levels of underground parking. That makes the apartments inherently less desirable as “luxury” units and therefore more affordable, and also dramatically reduces the traffic and congestion impacts of the project. Even more to the point, a building full of non-auto-enabled residents does far more for local retail. No weekly trips to CostCo for them! If you really want food markets and other retail services within an easy walk of downtown, high-density residence without parking is the best way to get them.

    I’d be willing to allow many more floors of residential in return for eliminating the parking component – and also space for the movie theater as part of the bargain.

  • Howie Mencken

    I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Post Office Project.

    This project and the development of the Post office site should be considered as a single opportunity to create a new future for downtown. One where the people who live there have money to spend! The Postal Service should issue a call for development proposals to be reviewed in consultation with the city for a synergistic development of their site.

  • You know that Pauline Kael passed away in 2001. In any case, I think megaplexes are necessary for a movie theater to survive.

    I wish we could get to a point where we stop using the words “socialists” and “NIMBYs.” We have found that negotiating usually improves the development, and some of us–for example, residents of Dwight Way–have it going on in our front yards.

    A couple of other observations. First, please see the article posted today on SFGate about the problem of aggressive panhandling in Union Square, despite the sit-lie law. The city is doing polls, which I doubt is going to be helpful. I am very gratified that Councilmember Arrequin is trying to move the idea of a task force ahead here in Berkeley.

    Second, although I didn’t vote for the Downtown Plan, I didn’t realize that UC can build two of the towers in downtown. Did we actually cede Berkeley land to the university, taking away the tax revenue with them? Not to mention that BP is operating on tax-free real estate? When the city is operating at deep deficits? Forgive me if I sound stunned and clueless, but I’m also speechless.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I would love to see it become a foodie destination linked to commuter transit. Something like the food places at the Ferry Building in SF or Market Hall near Rockridge BART.

  • Completely_Serious

    Yes, I know she’s passed away. But we should instruct the council to exhume her and make her zombie corpse run the theater anway. Because we don’t want anything to change in Berkeley, ever. Because? . . . .

  • Neighbor

    … Berkeleyside comments: the most bitter place on earth!

  • guest

    >implying that people who disagree with you don’t live in Berkeley
    Are you assuming that it was a unanimous vote? I voted against it actually, and I still oppose it.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    And you lost. Elections have consequences.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Not even close.

  • guest

    Well, as you know, life goes on, and we continue to support or oppose whatever we supported or opposed, regardless of election results. Unless our minds are changed by intelligent persuasion…