University Avenue project slated to begin in 2017

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

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Three years after the project was originally approved, construction to build a 205-unit apartment complex on a strip of buildings on University Avenue is slated to begin in 2017, following the property’s recent change in ownership.

The property was previously owned by Equity Residential, which acquired it in 2010 and originally planned to develop it into the Acheson Commons apartment complex. The project was approved in 2013, but Equity Residential never moved forward with construction. In July, it sold the strip of buildings to Texas-based developer Mill Creek Residential.

When asked, Mill Creek Residential Trust did not disclose the price it paid for the property.

According to John Hyjer, Equity Residential’s first vice president of investments, the decision to sell the property was partially because Equity Residential’s focus did not align with the student makeup of the city.

“I think our focus is more on market housing and not student housing,” said Hyjer. “Because of its proximity to UC Berkeley, it was going to be more of a student project.”

The strip of buildings is currently home to the MacFarlane Building, Crepes a Go-Go and the Acheson Physicians building, among others on University Avenue.

As first reported by Berkeleyside, Michael Caplan, the economic development manager for the city of Berkeley, said Mill Creek Residential will incorporate historical elements of the buildings into the final project, as stipulated in the original plans approved in 2013.

“It’s an incredibly dynamic city, and (Mill Creek Residential is) excited to be part of the community,” said Jason Overman, a spokesperson for Mill Creek Residential, in an email. “And there’s obviously a tremendous need for housing.”

While there are a number of shops that have stayed in business since Equity Residential’s acquisition in 2010, some — such as Zatar Restaurant and Catering — have gone out of business and have not been replaced, Caplan said.

Krishna Copy, a copy center that had been located on 2111 University Ave. since 1983, moved last year to 2001 University Ave. in response to the forthcoming project. One of its owners, Ritu Rai, said their search for a new location lasted for two years.

“I mean obviously people are upset that we’re (farther away) away from campus,” Rai said. “We’ve just been here nine months so we’ll see what happens.”

According to Caplan, tenants are aware that the buildings are slated for development and some buildings in the strip are vacant, potentially due to uncertainties caused by the project’s delay.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said he expects the development to revitalize the University Avenue area when finished.

“We definitely want to see that site development because it’s an important (opportunity) for the university, but more importantly for the city and the town,” Kaner said.

Contact Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].