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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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...