A rendering of the new hotel as seen from Center Street. Image: JRDV Urban International
A rendering of the new hotel as seen from Center Street. Image: JRDV Urban International

Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday night approved plans for a 16-story, 334-room hotel, with conference center, to be built on the Bank of America site at 2129 Shattuck Ave. (at Center Street).

The vote was unanimous and ZAB commissioners universally praised the project developer, Pyramid Hotel Group, for its responsiveness throughout the approval process, and for taking into account the needs of the community and stakeholders. Commissioner Steven Donaldson said Pyramid had been a “model for how developers can work with the city.”

See city documents on the hotel plans

Read more details on the hotel project on Berkeleyside.

The proposal considered by ZAB on Thursday was essentially the same as the one the board saw the last time it was in front of them when it certified its Environment Impact Report, said city principal planner Greg Powell. Changes made to the plans in recent months included dropping the idea of condos, aesthetic revisions to the architecture including “quieting it down,” and enhancing the project’s community benefits, the principal one of which concerns the project’s labor agreements.

The proposed downtown hotel at Center and Shattuck. Image: JRDV Urban International
The proposed downtown hotel at Center and Shattuck as seen from BART Plaza. Image: JRDV Urban International

The hotel will employ an estimated 100 permanent unionized hotel jobs, and more than 250 unionized construction jobs for 18 months, and Pyramid has said it will make efforts to source “materials and workers from Berkeley.”

A staffer from the International Rescue Committee, the largest refugee resettlement agency in the nation, also praised Pyramid Hotel Group at the meeting for its commitment to employing refugees. “They are by far our largest employer,” he said. “In the past two years they have employed 15 of our clients.”

Eric Panzer of Livable Berkeley expressed strong support for the project. “Creating a hotel in the currently underused site would fill an important need and serve as a real economic catalyst for downtown Berkeley,” he said. “Not only is the current structure on the site unsightly, it interfaces very poorly with the street and fails to meet the full potential of one of Berkeley’s prominent corners.”

Some commenters expressed concern about potential increased congestion and parking caused by the hotel. A second-floor parking garage for nearly 100 vehicles is planned. One commenter said the estimated room rate of $271 (by the hotel’s third year of operation) was too high a price for locals, including UC Berkeley faculty and visitors.

The hotel is estimated to bring the city $3 million a year in transient occupancy taxes. The city ordered a strategic economic analysis to assess whether the city was getting as much from the project as possible. The conclusion, presented to ZAB, was that it is. Pyramid estimates it will cost $112 million to build the hotel, which includes the cost of construction as well as tenant improvements and relocating Bank of America, which will move to new premises on the site and wants to stay open as long as possible during construction.

Pyramid currently has 75 properties in its portfolio, in 23 states, Washington, D.C., the Caribbean, Ireland and the United Kingdom. It works with both independent hoteliers and large hotel brands like Marriott, Hilton and Starwood. It already owns the DoubleTree by Hilton at Berkeley Marina. Its other Bay Area properties are the Marriott Pleasanton and the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country.

A proposal for the hotel in largely its current form at the site was first put forward by Jim Didion and Center Street Partners LLC at the end of 2013. It was subsequently put on hold pending the outcome of the Measure RR vote relating to restrictions on tall buildings in the November 2014 elections. That was defeated, and Pyramid came on board as financial backers in January last year.

ZAB chair Denise Pinkston pointed out that the hotel had been an even longer time coming, however. She recalled how it was being discussed when she was on the city’s Planning Commission in the late 1990s. “I am so happy to see my career in Berkeley come full circle,” she said, “and to not only have worked on the first Downtown Plan a long time ago, but to finally be able to vote to approve the hotel that has been envisioned for this site for decades.”

Pinkston added that she hoped to see the first shovels break ground on the project this fall.

Read more details on the hotel project in past coverage on Berkeleyside.

Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view important information.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...