A small hotel slated to open later this year is hoping to transform an intersection near North Berkeley BART after stalled planning and a recession left the site vacant for more than 10 years.
The three-story, 39-room Best Western Plus at 1499 University Ave. (at Sacramento) has gone through two owners since Kava Massih Architects first began planning a hotel at the address in 2008. Salinas-based Berkeley Hospitality purchased the property from a Rohnert Park-based family in 2014, and will soon open one of the city’s two new hotels in the last 25 years, according to Berkeley’s visitors’ bureau. Its tentative opening date is set for May 15.
The site was formerly home to a Union 76 gas station that was demolished 11 years ago, and it is surrounded by residential units.
Jiten Jadav, principal at Berkeley Hospitality, said he expects the mid- to upper-scale hotel’s main clientele will be tourists and people visiting the city for business. Room rates will start at $180 and fluctuate based on high-traffic seasons, like UC Berkeley graduation and move-in weekends. Guests will have access to a rooftop terrace, a 33-space parking garage and 13 attendant-operated tandem mechanical lifts. The hotel will also offer bikes for touring the city.
The 16,738-square-foot site is too compact for amenities like a restaurant or gym, he said, but the hotel will offer guests continental breakfast as well as fitness classes on the terrace with its panoramic views of the Berkeley hills and the San Francisco Bay.
“The hotel is designed very beautifully, there’s a lot of landscaping,” Jadav said. “I think it’s going to look great on the intersection, because right now it’s just a dirt lot.”
Local architect Kava Massih, who designed Berkeley Bowl West, several UC Berkeley dining spots, Nation’s Restaurant and the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office, among dozens of projects, is charged with making the building beautiful. Massih said he drives past the building on his way to and from work and on his routes around the city.
“In that sense, I felt a certain urgency to make sure it was well done and well designed,” he said, calling the project his “baby.” “I’m going to want to look at with loving eyes every time I drive by.”
He’s been with the project for 11 years, seeing it through the start of a recession at its inception to now, when a construction boom means it’s been difficult to find contractors to complete the project.
Jadav has also been frustrated with the project, saying there were problems throughout the planning and construction, which began in 2017.
Because the hotel is adjacent to residential units, its roof terrace raised privacy issues with neighbors worried that guests might be able to peer into their homes. The building is now set back 20 feet and terrace decks are covered with landscaping to prevent access and visibility on the outer edge of the roof. Jadav said the property owner also conducted a sound study due to concerns from residents, and found the building would actually absorb noise from the nearby intersection.
The building also has a custom ground-floor window system set in wood, design elements on both sides of University and Sacramento, that vary the exterior of the building, planters and plenty of greenery. Massih said these elements raise the status of the building, while being appropriate for the site and will stand the test of time.
“People think architects just go off with a glass of wine and come up with these great ideas,” Massih said. “Actually, you have to synthesize a lot of information outside of your control.”
Berkeley currently has 1,400 hotel beds, about a fourth as many as Oakland, according to Visit Berkeley spokesman Dan Marengo, who said the Best Western Plus is a much needed addition to the city’s hospitality scene. The 16-story, 334-room Residence Inn being built at 2129 Shattuck Ave. will contribute much more to the city’s overall inventory, but Marengo said the Best Western Plus will fill a role as more visitors consider Berkeley as a viable alternative to staying in Oakland or San Francisco. It could come in handy during large convention weekends in San Francisco, like Dreamforce, he said.
The hotel is located further away from downtown and the university than the larger hotel going up now, but Marengo thinks its has every opportunity to do well. Several established Berkeley hotels have undergone serious renovations in the last few years, like Hotel Shattuck Plaza and Hotel Durant, now called Graduate Berkeley, but Residence Inn and Best Western Plus are the first entirely new constructions.
“Berkeley is on a pretty nice economic development curve right now, and that’s going to be driving a lot of demand for new hotel rooms,” he said.
Visit Berkeley is funded by a percentage of hotel receipts, and will assist in branding and marketing theBest Western Plus within six months of the hotel’s opening, but this process hasn’t yet started.
“If you look at downtown Berkeley and how much development is going on right now… it’s significant and probably unprecedented… so we’ll see how hotels fit into that landscape,” he said.