The Berkeley Wire: 01.11.13

Print Friendly
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • I’d love to know what the SF Business Times article says, but don’t have a subscription. Can anybody who does summarize which 6 developments they’re referring to? (Editors, please delete this comment if it’s out of line.)

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’m in the same boat as you – I’d be curious to know more!

  • Here is the SF Business Times article in full:

    Housing boom to hit Berkeley

    800 units – if city will agree

    Like a college graduate entering the real world, downtown Berkeley is growing up.

    Investment is pouring into the city’s nucleus with residential developers proposing more than 800 units in six projects — more new housing than the city has seen in years — as well as numerous new restaurants and a business improvement district giving the downtown an urban, upscale makeover.

    “The economy is roaring back,” said Mark Rhoades, a Berkeley residential developer and consultant. “People are now pushing out to the East Bay from San Francisco. There’s lots of interest in Berkeley plus the constant need for housing for the University of California and the passing of the downtown area plan.”

    The new wave of development includes Equity Residential’s Acheson Commons, a 205-unit project at 2133 University Ave., Hill Street Realty’s 355-unit residential tower adjacent to the Shattuck Hotel and several projects with less than 100 units such as Avi Nevo’s 69 units at 1935 Addison St.

    In a city notorious for residents opposing or killing development, those three projects will each reach six stories, thanks to a recent change in Berkeley’s zoning law that allows for greater densities and taller buildings.

    Equity Residential’s $90 million project involves a mix of restoring existing buildings and new construction on vacant land. It will include 35,000 square feet of retail.

    “We’re going to reinvigorate the area,” said Peter Solar, who heads the project for Equity Residential. “We’re going to create new housing and retail and bring more life to the street.”

    The developer plans to start construction in early 2014 and begin leasing in early 2016.

    “Our target market will be a combination of faculty, staff, students, people who want to live in downtown Berkeley,” Solar said. “It’s a core location because of its proximity to employment centers, transportation nodes, also the University of California campus.”

    Hill Street proposed its tower in December and still has to secure entitlements for the project, which could cost close to $200 million. The Los Angeles-based investor paid $20 million in November for a retail and office complex that it plans to tear down.

    Rhoades, who is handling the entitlement work for Hill Street, said the project will be the largest ever built in downtown Berkeley and signals a shift in the city’s attitude about development.

    “There’s going to be a lot of construction going on in the downtown for the next few years, and people will start to see how much it will benefit the city to have dense, urban development,” he said. “The biggest challenge is convincing Berkeley. … There’s a lot of power of ‘no’ and ‘no change.’”

    Rhoades said that during the past three decades, the area attracted a sizeable homeless population, graffiti and loitering near the BART station.

    In recent years, an arts district blossomed with new venues such as Freight and Salvage offering live music. Numerous new eateries, such as Gather, PIQ and Comal, opened up at the same time as the Downtown Berkeley Association launched beautification efforts, an ambassador program to staff and clean streets and formed a business improvement district to raise more money for improvements.

    Besides commercial projects, the University of California debuted its $130 million Energy Biosciences Institute at 2151 Berkeley Way last fall and could start construction on a new home for its art museum by next year.

    John Caner, who heads the downtown association, said a variety of factors have converged to make the area more attractive not just for shoppers and diners but also for new residents beyond the usual student crowd.

    Last summer, CityView, a real estate company founded by former federal housing secretaryHenry Cisneros, paid $60 million for an unfinished, 143-unit condo building at 2055 Center St. that it since renamed Berkeley Central and is now leasing as apartments. One bedrooms start at $2,500 a month and two bedrooms start at $2,975.

    “Investors as well as potential residents realize that downtown can be a fun and vibrant place,” Caner said. “We’re encouraging more diversity in the housing stock. With the new developments, there are more units for young professionals and empty nesters.”

    When John Paluska decided to open Comal last May, he heeded several warnings about bringing a high-end Mexican restaurant to the neighborhood.

    “It doesn’t have a ton of cachet as a dining destination and there’s some sense that downtown Berkeley just wasn’t very hip,” he said. “We saw it as an area that had a lot of potential for something interesting — that’s how places become hip.”

    Since opening, the restaurant, which has seating for 150 inside plus a large, outdoor patio, is busy almost every day, and Paluska has seen a steady uptick in foot traffic.

    “The more upwardly mobile professionals living in that area, the more you will see more businesses sprouting up to accommodate that need,” he said.

    Comal’s space emerged from two dilapidated buildings that Paluska and his landlord, John Gordon of Gordon Commercial Real Estate, refurbished. The same has been happening all over downtown, Paluska said, with tenants reviving worn-out buildings.

    “When people come to Comal, they say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Berkeley anymore.’ There will be a certain point where people won’t say that anymore,” he said. “I saw (our space) as an opportunity that other people were overlooking and in retrospect would seem like a great opportunity.”

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    More crap forced down our throats. We don’t want higher density housing/ downtown.

  • Hyper_lexic

    Thank you for providing this!

    – Hyperlexic

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Should you really be scraping entire articles from another site? I’m not crazy about paywalls, but it’s their copy and they get to choose what to do with it, right?

  • Steve Gibbard

    The Oakland Tribune article on the Hill Street/Mark Rhodes project says it will involve tearing down the Shattuck Cinemas.

    While I certainly agree that Downtown Berkeley is in need of revitalization, and I’m normally skeptical of those who try to block new housing, I’m skeptical of this one. The movie theaters are among the few pockets of vibrancy left in downtown Berkeley — for many people I know the only reason to go there on a regular basis. Ignoring for a moment that it’s nice to have a movie theater that’s not in a mall and not surrounded by a suburban parking lot, would having the residents of ~400 new apartments in close proximity really make up for the economic loss to downtown of losing its biggest movie theater?

  • See the extensive comments on that point in response to our Dec. 21st article:

  • Hyper_lexic

    Personally i do.

  • Awesome, thanks very much.

  • Guest

    Me too.

  • guest

    Information wants to be free. That’s just the way it is.

  • guest

    God, me neither. Personally, i like Berkeley just the way it is.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The Firestone Tire site, on Milvia and University, is one example where I think a mixed use development, with housing above shopping, would be a huge improvement. A tire store and its parking lot detract from the character of downtown, and we could make this corner a much nicer place to walk and to be.

    Something like this has already happened around the northeast corner of Hearst and Shattuck. I can remember when that block had a Bargain Petroleum gas station and a little Kentucky Fried Chicken stand surrounded by a parking lot.

    To those who say they want no change and like Berkeley exactly as it is now, I ask:

    — Would you like to keep Firestone Tires in this central location in downtown?

    — Would you have been against the changes at Hearst/Shattuck?

    Since you like Berkeley as it is now, I presume you like Shattuck/Hearst as it is now, so you are in favor of the changes that happened at this corned. If you like those changes at Shattuck/Hearst, why not similar changes at Firestone?

    I am using these sites as examples. I could make the same point about many other sites in downtown.

    PS: As I have said before, I am against the highrises proposed for the Shattuck Cinemas site, but I would like the idea of adding more housing and shopping here, if it had a reasonable profile on the skyline. It would be nice to save the theaters, but I suspect the building’s owners want to get rid of them because they are losing money. It would also be nice if we could have saved Cody’s books, but it was losing $1 million per year.

  • The Sharkey

    Me three. More density = fewer empty storefronts = a more vibrant downtown.

  • The Sharkey

    I find myself agreeing completely with Charles once again.
    The Firestone parking lot (there’s a store?!?) really detracts from the neighborhood and feels very out of place. It seems like a complete waste of space and potential in an area that should be prime retail/office/housing because of its proximity to BART.

  • EBGuy

    When people come to Comal, they say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Berkeley anymore.’
    For some reason, I found this quote disturbing.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    If Berkeleyside played by that rule, it would be one thing, but I see “© 2013 Berkeleyside All Rights Reserved. ” at the bottom of every page. Copyright means that the copyright holder gets to decide who can have the copy and under what terms. Tracey pretty clearly violated the copyright of another publication.

  • guest

    I think you mean: more density = more empty unaffordable apartments + more unaffordable retail space underneath = empty storefront downtown + not theater
    Pretty much where we are now, but worse.

  • guest

    Do you know how much ” sharing” and linking of Berkeleyside takes place?
    Plus she gave credit to that publication.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Right, the developers want to build all those projects in downtown, because they think the buildings will remain empty, giving them the opportunity to lose big bucks on the deal.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Linking is not controversial. Berkeleyside has paid arrangements with other publications. But to take and republish content without permission from another publication that clearly says “subscription required” is theft.

  • guest

    No, they want to build them because they are speculators, and they are STUPID.