Center Street Partners wants to construct a 16-story, 293 room hotel complex at Shattuck and Center. Photo: Center Street Partners
Center Street Partners wants to construct a 16-story, 293-room hotel complex at Shattuck and Center streets in downtown Berkeley. Image: Center Street Partners

A Carmel-based developer and UC Berkeley graduate will submit plans to Berkeley tomorrow to construct a 16-story, 180-foot-tall hotel with office space, meeting rooms and retail space at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street.

The new complex, proposed by Jim Didion and Center Street Partners LLC, would replace the 1970s-era one-story Bank of America building and parking lot, and, if approved, transform one of the most visible corners in downtown Berkeley.

The view from Shattuck Avenue. Photo: Center Street Partners
The view from Shattuck Avenue. Image: Center Street Partners

Once constructed, the new hotel would be kitty corner from a revamped BART plaza and next door to the new Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, which is currently under construction.

The arrival of the new hotel would coincide with the scheduled reconfiguration of traffic patterns on Shattuck Avenue that would see routing both north and south traffic on the street’s western artery. It also joins a number of plans under way for about 1,300 new apartments for the area. Numerous new restaurants have also recently opened in downtown, adding up to a noticeable transformation of the neighborhood.

“Downtown is going to become much more animated,” said Michael Caplan, the director of the city’s economic development program. “A lot is happening. The downtown infrastructure, like the BART plaza, is very dated. This project (along with the others) will be a huge refreshment of a sense of place, an opportunity to define what the experience of downtown Berkeley is in the 21st century.”

The hotel, with 293 rooms, also has the potential to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city, according to Matthew Taecker, a former city planner whose firm, Taecker Planning and Design, has been hired to oversee the entitlement process. The hotel rooms will likely rent for about $200 a night, and will be taxed at 12%.

“It’s the highest tax rate we get on almost anything,” said Caplan. “A hotel room is a good tax generator.”

Architect hopes project will enhance pedestrian-friendliness of area

While the 284,000-square-foot hotel tower will be 180 feet tall, the architect of the project, Edward McFarlan, principal of JRDV Architects of Oakland, has designed smaller structures abutting the streets in order to retain — and enhance — a pedestrian-friendly environment. The façades on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street will be four stories high, essentially the same height as neighboring buildings. A one-story building will stand between the hotel and art museum, providing a visual break. The smaller sections will be clad in reclaimed wood or metal shingles to provide texture and visual interest.

The Shattuck side will be more “historically textured,” to blend in with its neighboring 1909 building, while the Center Street façades will be glassy and modern and more innovative, to match the Diller Scofidio + Renfro design of the museum, said McFarlan.

The view from Center Street. Photo: Center Street Partners
The view from Center Street. Image: Center Street Partners

The bulk of the L-shaped hotel will be in the center of the two-thirds acre parcel, said McFarlan. The building’s north-south axis will be thin so as to not block views from the campus or Shattuck Avenue. But to make the project work financially, and fit 25 hotel rooms on each floor, the east-west wing will need to be wider than the 120 feet currently allowed, said Taecker, who, ironically, codified that width when he served as a main planner for Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan. Neither Taecker nor McFarlan were sure how wide the building needed to be, but estimated it might be 220 feet wide. It will be a LEED gold building.

“The project will respect surrounding neighbors and historic resources while having an authentic modern expression,” according to documents that will be submitted to the city.

The hotel will have 293 rooms on floors five through 16 of the high-rise, and guests will enter through a central lobby on Center Street. There will be three floors of Class A office space on the second to fourth floors. UC Berkeley plans to rent one of the floors, Bank of America will take another, and the third floor will be designed as an incubator space or as offices for emerging companies coming out of Cal, said Didion. He is in talks with Carr Workplaces to build out the office space.

Didion has not yet closed a deal with a hotel company, but is in conversation with a number of major hotel chains, he said. The name of the project will be determined by the name of the hotel chain. (It is being referred to as “2129 Shattuck” for now.) Didion is the major financial backer of Center Street Partners, but plans to bring in more partners. Hotel lenders are anxious to fund projects now, he said.

Another view from Center Street. Photo: Center Street Partners
Another view from Center Street. Image: Center Street Partners

McFarlan said he was particularly excited about how the project could bring new vibrancy to the streets surrounding it. Since traffic on Shattuck Avenue will be rerouted, sidewalks along Shattuck Square can be widened. The hotel plan calls for erecting a high-end food kiosk on Shattuck Avenue and setting up café tables nearby, he said.

McFarlan said the north side of Center Street is kind of dead now, but the museum and hotel project will make it much more vibrant. There will be at least four lobby entrances on Center Street — to Bank of America, the office building, the hotel, and a restaurant in the one-story building. There will also be a roof garden overlooking Center Street.

“It makes Center Street a very energetic, playful street that’s nicely scaled, despite the fact there is a very big building on it,” said McFarlan.

John Caner, director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the new hotel/office complex could transform that intersection.

“This is critical for the revitalization of Center Street,” said Caner. “Restaurant Row is a tremendous success. We will have the museum, and now the hotel. We are activating both sides of the street. It really becomes the main corridor up to campus. It’s going to be beautiful, vibrant and exciting.”

Lack of conference facility a concern

City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who represents the downtown, said the city has been wanting to attract a hotel and conference space to the area for many years.

“The idea of having a hotel downtown is exciting,” he said. “It would be a huge benefit to Berkeley. I am glad there is a viable plan for a hotel downtown.”

Arreguín would not comment on the particulars of the project since he will eventually have to vote on it. He has met with the developers, however. He expressed concern that the project, as currently designed, does not have much conference space, which Berkeley needs. He said he thought the city would try to talk to the developer about enhancing that aspect of the project.

Didion said he knew Berkeley officials want a conference center and is open to discussion. It will be up to the hotel operator, however, to decide if it wants a conference center on the property.

Arreguín also said he and his fellow council members need to make sure the developer supplies sufficient community benefits.

Taecker said Center Street Partners will pay into the city’s affordable housing fund, its childcare fund and its street fund. The plan will not provide any publicly-accessible open space, so the developer will pay an in-lieu fee to fund pedestrian improvements adjacent to the site, he said.

Developer has been eyeing the land for a long time

Didion has been working to develop this parcel for almost a decade. A former CEO for CB Richard Ellis, a major developer, Didion acted as a consultant to former UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in attempting to bring in a hotel developer for this parcel. A few years ago, the developer Carpenter & Company had plans to build an upscale hotel like the Charles Hotel, one they built in Boston, but the plan folded when the economy tanked in 2008.

Didion stopped advising the university after that, but kept his eye on the parcel, he said. He started to negotiate with Bank of America, which owns the land, a few years ago. B of A was interested, but said it could not vacate the space. McFarlan came up with a plan to build a one-story structure on the easternmost edge of the plot and  move Bank of America into it temporarily while construction of the hotel/office complex was underway. The bank will then move into a prominent ground floor space and the one-story building would be converted into a restaurant.

The underground garage will only have 70 parking spaces. Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan calls for one space per three hotel guests, so Center Street Partners plans to use 180 spaces in the new garage planned for Center Street. In return, Didion said the group would make a financial contribution toward the new parking facility.

The Downtown Area Plan, which was adopted in 2012 after Berkeley voters overwhelmingly endorsed its concepts in 2010, allows for the construction of three 180-foot-high buildings in Berkeley’s downtown core and four 120-foot-high buildings. (Two of these are reserved for UC Berkeley.) Now three of those classifications have been spoken for. A Los Angeles real-estate group has proposed a 17-story, 180-foot-tall luxury apartment complex on Harold Way that adjoins the historic building holding Shattuck Cinemas. And, earlier this month, a San Francisco family proposed building a 120-foot-tall apartment complex on Shattuck and Berkeley Way.

Different elevations
Different elevations of the proposed hotel. Image: Center Street Partners

In March 2012, three neighborhood groups filed a lawsuit against Berkeley and the DAP, contending the city did not comply with state environmental laws because it did not file a new EIR when it refined a 2009 plan for the downtown area. Opponents were also concerned that the new Green Pathways provision, which would let developers speed up the approval process if they created extraordinarily green buildings, would result in the destruction of historic buildings because the Landmarks Preservation Commission would not have adequate time to review the projects. In September, an Alameda County judge dismissed the lawsuit.

McFarlan said he thought hard about how to create a signature tall building, but one that respected Berkeley’s historic buildings and its vibrancy.

“There is a limitation to the number of tall buildings Berkeley will get so they will be important,” he said. “It does want to be an iconic building. It wants to reflect the personality of Berkeley. It doesn’t want to look like it flew in from San Francisco or Walnut Creek and landed in Berkeley. It wants to have a sense it is about Berkeley.”

The developer plans to submit its initial application to Berkeley on Dec. 20 and will hold a public meeting in January, said Taecker. It will take at least a year to complete an EIR. The developer will have to ask the Planning Commission and the City Council to approve a zoning amendment, as well. If approvals go smoothly, the process could be completed in the middle of 2015. Construction could be completed by 2017.

The developer is building a website at It should be online tonight. See the package Center Street Partners is presenting to the city.

New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.09.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Lawsuit challenges Berkeley’s new downtown plan (06.06.12)
After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan

For details and images of many of the new building projects underway in Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s recent real estate articles.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...