Grayson Street proposal could add to West Berkeley’s life sciences boom

The project is planned for the site of Berkeley’s Grayson Street homeless shelter. City officials have long known the site was only temporary.

A rendering shows the project REDCO Development wants to build on the 700 block of Grayson Street in West Berkeley. The company says its proposal could bring up to 700 new life sciences jobs to the area. Credit: Brick

A San Francisco developer is eyeing a 2.5-acre site near Aquatic Park for a project that could bring even more life sciences jobs to a West Berkeley neighborhood that expects to draw thousands of new workers from the sector in the coming years.

The proposal from REDCO Development aims to attract a mix of businesses and uses, including research and manufacturing, that could employ as many as 700 people at a new facility on the 700 block of Grayson Street.

“It will be smaller tenants, incubating and growing jobs for the city,” REDCO Managing Partner Chris Freise said in an interview. “It will be a home for people to grow.”

The project also calls for demolishing a former warehouse and distribution facility at 742 Grayson St. that now houses a homeless shelter and safe parking site, which the city of Berkeley opened in July. City officials say they have known from the start that the Grayson Street building, where 32 people were staying as of Tuesday, was only a temporary home for the shelter; Berkeley’s lease with REDCO runs through September 2022.


the exterior of a building that will house a homeless shelter on Grayson Street in West Berkeley
The exterior of a building at 742 Grayson St., which houses a homeless shelter that opened in July. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

“We will be working to help people in the shelter find housing as (a) primary way to exit and exploring other shelter locations simultaneously,” Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen said, though he added, “It is very challenging to locate shelter space.”

Project renderings from the Oakland architecture firm Brick depict a four-level building clad in glass and metal mesh screens. REDCO wrote in its application, which was submitted in September, that the facility will have 187,000 square feet of “new state-of-the-art life science research and development space” as well as an 18,000-square-foot outdoor terrace.

Each floor will have high ceilings to accommodate the needs of life sciences manufacturing, REDCO says. As a result, the company is seeking a variance from the city that will allow its building to rise nearly 70 feet — a height Friese said is comparable to buildings at Wareham Development’s nearby Aquatic Park campus and structures the pharmaceutical giant Bayer is planning for its campus across the street from the REDCO site.

On the west side of the building, which will face Aquatic Park, the project calls for using a type of glass that is meant to reduce the potential for bird strikes. And the development includes bioretention systems to “slow and clean” stormwater as it enters the park’s lagoon, according to REDCO.

The application also called for a seven-level, 362-space parking garage, but Friese said the company is in discussions with the city about the project’s parking needs as it refines the proposal, and the structure will likely be smaller. REDCO’s proposal was first reported by the San Francisco Business Times.

Aquatic Park seeing burst of new development

The Grayson Street project is part of a surge of new development that is making West Berkeley an even bigger hub for life sciences.

Bayer’s expansion plans, which the company is negotiating with the city, call for doubling its Berkeley workforce, adding 1,000 jobs and perhaps a dozen new buildings on its campus over the next three decades. And at the northern end of Aquatic Park, a new campus called Berkeley Commons expects to attract another 1,500 workers after it gained city approval earlier this year.

The projects come about a decade after the city eased West Berkeley’s zoning rules in an effort to attract a broader range of businesses to its industrial area. The Planning Commission is considering further changes this week that would make zoning for research and development facilities more permissive.

“Having more life science and other innovation sectors in West Berkeley will allow us to provide quality jobs for generations to come,” said Councilmember Terry Taplin, who represents the area and declined to comment on REDCO’s proposal specifically. “After years of neglect and disinvestment, I’m very happy to see new life coming into the district.”

Still, Taplin was concerned about the impact those thousands of new workers could have on the area if they are primarily getting to work each day by car. Taplin said he wants the city to launch a comprehensive plan for West Berkeley’s transportation needs that takes into account changes like a planned redesign of San Pablo Avenue and the potential for ferry service at the Berkeley Marina, in an effort to make it easier for those workers and others to get around the area without driving.

“We don’t really need a whole bunch more cars coming into West Berkeley,” Taplin said. “We should be incentivizing and investing in biking and transit and walking — but that also requires the city to invest in that kind of infrastructure, and create housing close to jobs.”

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.