The Downtown Berkeley Marriott Residence Inn as seen on December 9, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
At 168 feet tall, the new Residence Inn Berkeley hotel now stands as the fourth-tallest building in Berkeley. The hotel will welcome its first guests later this week. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

From the Presidential Suite on the 17th floor of the new Residence Inn Berkeley, you can peer down onto the rooftop gardens and solar panels of other downtown high-rises, or out onto endless panoramas of the East Bay, Golden Gate and San Francisco — so long as the weather cooperates.

Rising 168 feet above downtown, the new 331-room hotel stands as Berkeley’s fourth-tallest building, topped only by UC Berkeley’s Campanile and the two other towers with which it shares the intersection of Center Street, Shattuck Avenue and Kala Bagai Way. The hotel is the biggest addition to the city’s skyline since the structure now known as the SkyDeck building rose half a century ago.

Berkeleyside got an exclusive look inside the LEED Gold building last week, as hazy skies dampened its expansive views and workers unpacked furniture and readied rooms.

The first guests at the hotel, which is part of the Marriott chain, will check in on Friday, though operations will still be ramping up as it opens. That 2,600-square-foot penthouse Presidential Suite, for example, is still coming together and won’t be available to rent quite yet.

A new bar and restaurant on the 12th floor, where hotel guests and the broader public will one day be able to have a beer by a fire pit on a rooftop patio overlooking UC Berkeley, is still under construction as well. Plans call for the as-yet-unnamed bar to open in February.

A new Bank of America branch will also eventually occupy the corner of Kala Bagai Way and Center Street on the development’s ground floor, but a spokesperson for the project did not know when that space would be complete.

From the outside, the recent removal of several construction barriers means passersby are starting to get a sense of how the building feels at street level after more than three years of work. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out from the lobby onto the sidewalk, part of a brick exterior that partly conceals the tower rising above.

Blue, gold and white panels along the second floor give a preview of the color scheme you’ll find throughout this hotel, which expects to do a brisk business with visitors to the Cal campus a block away. Pyramid Hotel Group managed the development and will operate the hotel.

Inside the Center Street entrance, you’ll find art meant to tie the building to its surroundings. A piece behind the front desk depicts a map of downtown that explodes into jigsaw puzzle pieces, while on the other side of the lobby a panoramic shot of Berkeley and the Golden Gate runs above a row of booths and computers. Local landmarks such as the Campanile, the marina and the Berkeley City Club’s pool also make appearances in artwork that hangs in rooms and hallways.

We can’t show you what the building’s restaurant, conference center, fitness center or several other spaces look like, because hotel representatives asked us not to photograph areas that were still under construction. And although we toured several rooms that looked ready for guests, we were not allowed to photograph them either; room images in this piece were provided by Marriott.

Along with more typical one- and two-night guests, the Residence Inn brand caters to people coming for longer stays of multiple weeks or months. As a result, each of the rooms boasts a kitchen equipped with a two-burner cooktop, dishwasher, full-size refrigerator and combination microwave and convection oven.

With many Berkeley leaders now embracing taller buildings and more dense development, the hotel could have more company at its lofty heights in the not-so-distant future.

The city’s 2012 Downtown Area Plan allows for three new buildings that are up to 180 feet tall; the hotel is the first of those structures to be built. An 18-story, 274-unit apartment complex at 2190 Shattuck Ave. was approved in 2019 but has not yet broken ground, while another developer unveiled a proposal earlier this year for a 283-unit complex at the intersection of Center and Oxford streets — just across from the new hotel.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...