Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans

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 Plaza are approved. Image: Courtesy of HSR Berkeley Investments

Six state-of-the-art movie theaters have taken the place of a public plaza in new designs for 2211 Harold Way, Berkeley’s first proposed high-rise to be developed in decades.

In response to public support for the theaters, expressed vociferously by zoning commissioners at a preview session for the project in March, developers took out a pedestrian plaza and drew in the movie theaters, said Mark Rhoades, the project’s lead planning consultant and the property owner’s representative.

“The loss of the theaters was a big deal to a broad segment of the community,” said Rhoades. He said the initial designs tried to respond to the Downtown Area Plan’s interest in privately-owned public open space, but that it was clear in March that many people felt “the loss of the theaters would have a significant cultural impact on the downtown.”

The project, which has been estimated to cost $75 million to construct would include a 180-foot tower with 298 residences next to the property that now houses Landmark Theatre’s Shattuck Cinemas and various offices.

The 17-story rental high-rise, named The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, will be an L-shaped building with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza, which sits on the same block but has different owners, would share some of the project’s amenities but otherwise remain untouched. Under the plans submitted in December, Harold Way will become a string of stores and cafés, part of 12,000 square feet of retail in the building.

The site of the proposed Residents at xxxx. (Click to learn more.) Image:

The site of the proposed Residences at Berkeley Plaza. (Click to learn more.) Image: Courtesy of HSR Berkeley Investments

When they brought the theaters back into the designs, developers aimed to come up with plans that would get the movie theater company excited again to be in Berkeley. Rhoades said in February that Landmark wasn’t interested in staying in Berkeley after its lease ran out, because the theater “wasn’t doing very well for them.”

“The problem they have with the existing space is that it’s not up to snuff from their perspective,” Rhoades said this week.

Rhoades said the proposed movie theaters would sit on two levels, at grade and underground. They would range in size from relatively small to very large, and could continue to offer both first-run and art-house movies. Rhoades said there would be stadium seating and surround sound, with a different layout from what currently exists.

Rhoades said Landmark hasn’t yet made a commitment to the project, but that the proposal is on the table: “Discussions are going pretty well with the theaters.”

Lauren Kleiman, Landmark’s spokeswoman, confirmed Wednesday that conversations with the developer are underway.

“We continue to work with them and work on layouts that would satisfy a theater in that existing Shattuck space.”

She said the company hopes to find a way to stay in Berkeley, and appreciates the community support for the theaters that has been expressed since project plans were unveiled.

“We’ve heard it. We love it. And we feel the same way,” she said. “We’re all for helping improve Berkeley and want to stay a part of the community as well.”

New tower designs underway

Rhoades said the team hopes the nine-to-12-month environmental review process will begin by August, at which point the project will get reviewed for a second time by several city panels related to planning and historical preservation. He said groundbreaking could take place in 2015, with the building going “online” by 2018.

In March, city zoning commissioners said they needed to see some major changes if they were to consider approving the plans. Commissioners asked the project team to improve the layout of its units; bring back the theaters; and take another run at the overall architecture of the high-rise tower.

Rhoades said the unit layout has been significantly redesigned, and has dropped from about 350 proposed units to 298.

This week, he said, developers began focus groups to get feedback on a newly designed tower, with more final designs coming in the next few weeks. The new designs aren’t ready to be unveiled publicly, said Rhoades, but developers aimed to come up with something iconic and bold, as suggested in March by the zoning commission.

“Architecture is like art,” he said. “Two reasonable people can stand shoulder to shoulder looking at a building. One says, ‘This is amazing,’ and one says, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’ Even with what we would consider a new iconic design, we don’t think everybody is going to agree with that.”

He said the goal is to make the building fit within the historic context of the downtown, which has two other high-rises: the Wells Fargo tower, which was built in the 1920s, and the Chase building, on Center Street and Shattuck, which was built in 1969.

“Wells Fargo did a nice job in its time. But the Chase building kind of turned its back on the context of downtown. It’s just a different design altogether and it’s not very rich in texture and materials. This new building has got to learn from the mistakes of the past but at the time look to its time and be hopeful for the future,” said Rhoades. “That’s kind of the problem we’re trying to solve from a design perspective.”

Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant
1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley (02.07.13)
First high-rise in 40 years proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Large downtown property changes hands (11.28.12)
Council sets fee for affordable housing mitigation (10.18.12)
Acheson Commons: Large change for downtown (04.12.12)
After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan (03.21.12)
Parker Place wins council approval (01.18.12)
City of Berkeley project page for 2211 Harold Way

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  • David D.

    Shucks, looks like we’re going to lose a public plaza because a few dozen people are nostalgic for a time when more people went to movie theaters. I’d be upset if it weren’t for the fact that I probably wouldn’t use the public plaza. After all, I don’t like hanging out in homeless encampments.

  • guest

    We have a couple of falsely promised, never-realized movie theaters downtown already. They should falsely promise something original and then not have that, instead.

  • guest

    best comment. /thread

  • Woolsey

    No, no, no, – we’d all be happy if they promised the movie theaters but left it open space. Better yet, let’s have movies in the park like they do in SF. They just had Raiders of the Lost Ark in Dolores Park. Princess Bride is coming up.

  • gus

    Who in god’s name promised you “a couple” of movie theaters in downtown Berkeley? Movie theaters have been steadily going out of business in downtown Berkeley for 20 years. Landmark isn’t sure they want to stay downtown even if they get a brand new theater.

    So it doesn’t look to me like even replacing Shattuck Cinemas is a good idea. Can you imagine what the ticket price is going to be for a movie in a brand new start-of-the-art theater in 2018?

  • guest

    I had my doubts about a privately owned “publicly accessible” plaza surrounded by structures at least 5 stories and up to 17 stories tall. I think it wouldn’t be very appealing to spend much time in. I’d rather have the theatres and tax money they’ll generate.

  • John Holland

    I started reading comments ecstatic about the theater plan, and by the end, I join people in questioning the future of film. Is a semi-megaplex good planning? I’d like to dream about a “public square” around which people attend movies, but the points about the decline of theaters in general and in Berkeley is sobering.

    As a movie lover, I’m grateful and excited. I’d also like to see the theater plan in the context of the future of film.

  • guest

    Fine Arts Cinema, Gaia bookstore… hmmm, I bet we can come up with some others.

    Typical tactic: promise something and don’t deliver.

    Myself, I’d like to see them falsely promise an indoor 3 ring circus! Make it more spectacular!

  • guest

    No rent is collected on a public plaza. Building, instead, something with all the quality of a suburban mall cineplex isn’t terribly expensive and can lead to a little revenue. A “little revenue” can be guaranteed by giving a sweetheart loss-leader lease to some big chain like Landmark. The incentive for the developer is not really that the cinemas will make a lot of money for the landlord but that they’ll grease the project approval skids. If that’s the path this thing takes, Berkeleyans ought to be asking what happens if a few years down the line the theater franchise pulls out. What’ll we be left with then?

  • Bill N

    Well I like going to movies in movie theaters where you get to watch on something bigger than 32,36, or 42 or whatever inches. We go maybe once a month and I tend to be more selective when i go to to a movie theater so that i don’t have to regret paying 9.99 for a lousy on demand movie.

  • Jeffrey White

    Thank you! Although I have a home theater system, I still like to watch movies when they first come out, never mind the bigger screen and sound system. Also, Landmark theaters provide a venue for independent films.

  • guest

    Good comment, Tom.

  • Mrdrew3782

    The whole point of saving the Shattuck Cinemas is to keep it the way it is. Untouched. Not demolish it and replace it. It sounds to me like they are going to demolish it and then put in a new theatre in it’s place which completely defeats the purpose. The more I look at this development the more I don’t want it.

  • guest

    Bad comment, Tom.

  • guest

    Good point. Why smash a new theater and then rebuild it? Stupidity?

  • guest

    Oh look, it’s the anti-Tom troll!

    Tom, Tommy, Thomas

    Tim tum toobadoo

  • BBnet3000

    Shattuck already has wide plazas along it, and the City Hall park is right behind this building more or less.

    Obviously the Shattuck plazas have their problems, but this isnt the fault of this developer, and hopefully a new building going in there with many new residents will encourage an improvement.

  • BBnet3000

    Slightly hard to build a large new building over an existing one without rather expensive engineering. Meanwhile, stadium seating is nice.

    Now, if they could show 70mm prints, THAT would take the cake….

  • The_Sharkey

    What, no complaints about it lacking a petting zoo?

  • Charles_Siegel

    “developers aimed to come up with something iconic”

    When an architect says “iconic,” beware.

  • Charles_Siegel

    from the article:

    Landmark wasn’t interested in staying in Berkeley after its lease ran
    out, because the theater “wasn’t doing very well for them.”
    “The problem they have with the existing space is that it’s not up to snuff from their perspective,”

    I am glad they are trying to keep the theater in one form or another, since it is a draw that brings people downtown.

  • Rob Wrenn

    It’s good that they are planning to keep movie theaters there. To make downtown Berkeley a destination for moviegoers, those who want to see the movie when it comes out, not wait to watch in on Netflix, it helps to have a lots of screens with lots of movies to choose from, which downtown has now. Loosing the screens at Shattuck would be a big loss. I hope they will continue to have some larger theaters as they do now.

    As far as a plaza goes, the City should insist on a sizable contribution from the developer to help pay for a plaza on Center Street in front of UC’s planned new museum. The City Council has already approved the idea of a plaza there; it doesn’t need a mini-plaza near this proposed project. The developer is being allowed to build a huge building, much larger than what was allowed in the past and much taller than all the housing that has been profitably built downtown in recent years. The City needs to get something in return for this windfall to the developer and property owner. Helping to pay for a plaza on Center would be a contribution to needed open space downtown which they won’t be providing onsite. The city should also ask them to build a “green” building that meets the maximum energy efficiency standards. LEED platinum would be appropriate. Tall buildings are more energy inefficient than smaller ones in part because they require elevators and the energy to run them. They also have proportionally less rooftop space where solar panels could be put. Energy consumption per square foot is higher in a high rise than in a four or five story building other things being equai. For that reason, it’s important for city to require meeting standards that go beyond what developers will typically do if it’s up to them, as there primary goal is, after all, to make money.

  • guest

    Shoo, Bill

  • anna

    I go to Berkeley Landmark Theaters 1 to 3 times a week. So do many of my friends and co workers.

    People come from out of town and other parts of town and see a movie and go out to eat or have a drink after the movie. The library, the restaurants and the movie theaters are the main things that bring people downtown. Remove the theater or replace it with a shopping mall block buster venue and I guarantee there wont be as much business downtown. To those individuals who are in their comments deriding movies and people who go to them…I promise that no one will force you to go to a movie. How can we have an Arts District without the cinema?

  • gus

    What are you even talking about? Fine Arts Cinema was torn down over a decade ago and replaced with housing. Gaia has been gone a lot longer than that. Are you literally grousing that Berkeley has plenty of housing and not enough porn theaters and new age bookstores?

  • guest

    Don’t let Keith Arnold hear you putting down his beautiful art theater as a “porn theater”.

    I think the point is obvious. Berkeley developers have a pattern of promising to preserve local businesses in order to get their big buildings, and then turn around and stab them (and the community) in the back.

    Are you seriously implying that Berkeley has plenty of housing?

  • Mrdrew3782

    Berkeley has always been about character. This is mostly seen in our architectural diversity. People love going to the Shattuck Cinema not just for the movie but for the atmosphere and ambiance. If they make another generic theatre on a budget the films might be the same but the unique experience will be lost. You see the aerial view of the proposed building and it just looks like the developers are trying to build something that benefits them at our expense.

  • EBGuy

    In all fairness, those were “density bonus” fiascoes. In fact, you could point to Trader Joe’s as a more recent success. That said, this is more akin to the situation at Acheson Commons; I’m willing to bet that Berkeley ACE will disappear from the face of the planet (never to return) once Acheson Commons begins construction.

  • EBGuy
  • guest

    “Two reasonable people can stand shoulder to shoulder looking at a building…”

    Mark you’re dreaming, where are you going to find two reasonable people in this town?

  • guest

    That view is much better from the top of Sather Tower.

  • guest

    Our “architectural diversity” is pretty much the result of letting everyone do what they wanted to. Manufactured diversity is worse than none at all.

  • Ultra Violet

    In response to your comment about homeless encampments, as the great Groucho Marx once said, you should try it sometime, you might like it.

  • Greg

    Ha. You’re right. This is a big project that demands a big empty promise.

    It seems pretty obvious what that empty promise should be: A state-of-the-art, free-to-the-public warm pool.

    That way anyone who opposes this project can be accused of taking away false hope from the most vulnerable among us!

    Of course the required design work for this never-to-be-built feature should be kept to a minimum (sketches, at most) to avoid placing an unnecessary financial burden on the developer.

  • guest

    Who’s Bill? Has he been banned from Berkeleyside twice?

  • Charles_Siegel

    Historical note: the Fine Arts Building was initially planned to keep the cinema (and it looks like it was designed to hold a movie theater), and the Gaia Building was initially planned to hold the Gaia Bookstore, but both of those businesses folded before the buildings were complete.

    I don’t think this means that every project that is planned to have movie theaters will not end up having them, and I doubt if Landmark Cinema will fold.

  • guest

    As usual, the full story is much more involved. In the Fine Arts Cinema case, it involved the agreed upon rent being dramatically raised before re-opening: to the point that the theatre couldn’t afford it.

    I don’t personally know all the details of the Gaia Books situation, but I believe it is pretty similar.

    These businesses “folded” because the developer made it impossible for them to stay in business.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Gaia Bookstore was located on North Shattuck, it planned to move to the Gaia Building, but it went broke at its existing location before the new location was completed.

    The Fine Arts theater actually could not afford to equip the new space. It was not a question of rent.

  • guest

    The deal that had been agreed to as far as the new theater space was broken, because of financial changes made by the developer.

  • The_Sharkey

    Do any of you guys really doubt that Bruce/Tom is posting again? It seems clear as day to me and several other posters, but I guess if you haven’t been around that long you might not be as familiar with his style as some of us?

  • guest

    When the project was being proposed the developer reassured the city council and the public that the deal to reopen the cinema was practically done. The developer described how the cinema in the new building would draw people to the area. The project was widely praised because it would preserve an important cultural amenity. When the project was nearly done it came out that the developer wanted the cinema to spend close to a million dollars to finish the space. The company that had last operated at that space couldn’t afford that and folded instead.

  • guest

    You’re obsessed, buddy: move on. This is cyberspace.

  • SarahSiddell

    My friends and I go to the Shattuck or the Elmwood a couple of times a week. Not all of us have gigantic-screen televisions in our homes, especially if we live in apartments. I would really mourn the loss of the Shattuck! Right now, for example, it’s the only local place one can see Jeremy Scahill’s fantastic documentary, “Dirty Wars,” a film that puts human faces on the murderous deeds over government is doing around the planet.

  • guest

    Stop it Tom!

  • Gina

    Great to see the community giving input on this very significant project. Fifteen-year old Habitot Children’s Museum with its 60,000 annual family visitors (who by the way, pay for parking, buy food and shop in the area) is also going to be eliminated by this project. Just curious if there a constituency for keeping Habitot here as well?

  • Charles_Siegel

    It is an interesting issue that I haven’t heard about. Maybe Berkeleyside can have an article about the future of Habitot. If we call attention to it, that might help them find a new location or help them get accommodated in the new building.

  • Gina

    I know you are a strong advocate for work-life balance, and Habitot has long fulfilled a mission to help parents of young children (who seem to work all the time, or are distracted by all the technology in their lives) by having a place to spend time with their children in hands-on play and learning. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of awareness or appreciation for the needs of families and children in Berkeley. If you can help, please contact me at Habitot. Thanks Gina