Development of 16-story hotel moves forward

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The development of a 16-story hotel in Downtown Berkeley will move forward with a new design after Measure R — an expansion of regulations on Downtown buildings — failed to pass in November, according to a Jan. 20 press release.

The proposal now includes space for residential condominiums, which was previously allotted for office space. The building will replace the Bank of America building and parking lot on the corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, and it will also include a restaurant or bar on the ground level. Had it passed, Measure R would have increased environmental standards for Downtown buildings and would have imposed restrictions on buildings taller than 60 feet, such as the planned project.

“There will be extraordinary benefits to Downtown (Berkeley),” said Matthew Taecker, the principal planner and community liaison for the project. “There will be thousands of visitors to the Downtown area to frequent restaurants and shops.”

Taecker said the development could generate well over $1 million in taxes for the city.

The addition of residential condominiums to the design is meant to make the project more “financially feasible,” according to Taecker, who said high-rise hotel construction has a fairly narrow profit margin.

The project will have to exhibit significant community benefits to get approval from City Council, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district contains the proposed building site.

According to Taecker, there is a pressing need in Berkeley for hotel space, and the city sees a leakage of hotel business to Emeryville and San Francisco. This is also detrimental from an environmental perspective, as those who stay outside of Berkeley and have business there have to rent cars, he said.

Arreguin said the project could financially support the city’s plans to create a pedestrian plaza between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street on Center Street. The council voted in 2010 to close off cars on that street to create a central gathering place Downtown, but a dearth of funds has prevented the potentially $10 million project from becoming reality.

“Having a major hotel Downtown is very important, not just for that area but for the university and the city,” Arreguin said. “It’s an important economic benefit to the city.”

The design will require a zoning variance because it is wider than 120 feet, so the developers are seeking a use permit. Taecker said the Zoning Adjustments Board routinely grants these permits.

The design has not yet been made public, but the project’s developer and a financial backer will preview the design to city officials, Visit Berkeley and other groups in early February. After presentations to the Design Review Committee and the zoning board, a community open house to showcase the planned project is scheduled for early March.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article quoted Matthew Taecker as saying that the development will generate $2 million in hotel taxes for the city. In fact, the development will generate well over $1 million in hotel taxes.