Developers host open house to introduce plans for campus building in Downtown Berkeley

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Developers for the Berkeley Way West building project hosted an open house Thursday to introduce proposed construction plans for a UC Berkeley academic building in Downtown Berkeley.

Project designers revealed plans for a high-rise building that would house UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and department of psychology, currently located in the seismically challenged Tolman Hall. The building would also house the campus’ School of Public Health, which is currently occupying a temporary space in University Hall.

The proposed site, now used as temporary surface parking for UC Berkeley affiliates, spans more than 300,000 square feet along Shattuck Avenue.

Several open house audience members identified adequate parking space as a chief concern with the project. John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the Berkeley Way West Building would eliminate 150 parking spaces, contributing to a cumulative loss of 584 parking spaces in Downtown Berkeley as a result of university construction projects.

“If you were building a commercial project of that size, you wouldn’t be able to build it without parking solutions,” Caner said. “The loss of parking is a really serious concern — it puts additional pressure on city and commercial garages. My hope would be that the university would be building parking structures to support their projects.”

The building plans discussed during the open house do not allocate any area for parking spaces, with the official report noting that the area is “well served by transit.”

“Nobody denies that parking is a challenge,” said Emily Marthinsen, the campus assistant vice chancellor for physical and environmental planning, at the open house. “But project planners are trying to mitigate the loss of parking spaces”

Caner also acknowledged the potential benefit of the project for Berkeley’s Downtown community, saying it could draw people out of the popular north Shattuck area into what he called the “dead zone” surrounding the proposed construction site.

“We’re looking for a vibrant Downtown —we’re looking to diversify,” Caner said. “It’s the first time there will be classrooms in the Downtown area. There are plans for students and faculty housing and some nice community space. It brings vibrancy to Downtown.”

Questions regarding retail space, BART accessibility and project contractors were also posed to the development team by open house visitors. Additional plans will continue to be released as the team continues the project vetting and review process, according to Christine Shaff, communications director for the campus’s facilities services. She said the group would hire a contractor through a public bidding process.

Shaff acknowledged that there are still many steps before a final plan can be announced — primarily an official vote from the UC Board of Regents permitting construction.

“There’s much yet to happen before the shovel goes in the ground,” she said.

Construction of Berkeley Way West is set to begin this summer, with intended occupancy by fall 2017.

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Christine Shaff.