The project director of the proposed Berkeley UC hotel and conference complex stated this week for the first time, at least publicly, that the massive downtown development project will have to come under the city’s zoning ordinances and permit process. UC Senior Planner Kevin Hufferd told a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Planning Commission’s UC Hotel Complex Task Force, however, that the hotel would probably exceed the city’s downtown height restrictions, leaving the distinct impression that it is the zoning ordinance itself which will have to give if the project is to go through.
At the same meeting, Hufferd announced that the university had selected a developer for the $150 million to $200 million, 200-room project slated for the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street: Cambridge, Massachussetts-based Carpenter & Co.
In a press statement released the day of the task force meeting, Mayor Tom Bates said Carpenter & Co. has “pledged to work closely with the Berkeley community and has agreed, along with the university, that the hotel project will fall under the city’s land use jurisdiction. This was an important change as the university had previously asserted that, as a university-related facility, the project would be exempt from the city’s land use laws.”
The sudden switch on the university’s zoning stand was in line with a controversial private memo, written by Deputy City Attorney Zach Cowan to Mayor Tom Bates last November, in which Cowan outlined a procedure to bring the project through Berkeley’s zoning procedure in order to “bulletproof” any possible zoning amendments to accommodate the UC hotel development. The memo was leaked to the Daily Planet and published last month.
Carpenter & Co. was picked by UC to develop the project over three other finalists: Champion Partners, Lowe Enterprises, and Faulkner USA/Hilton Hotels. The winning developer signed a six-month agreement to perform a feasibility study on the project, estimated to cost between $150 million and $200 million. A decision on going forward with the project itself will not be made by the university and the developer until after the feasibility study is completed.
Carpenter and Company is best known for building the Charles Hotel, next to Harvard University, and is currently developing the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco that will include condominiums and the African American Diaspora Museum.
In addressing a planning commission subcommittee on the hotel project Tuesday, UC Senior Planner Kevin Hufferd touted the company’s track record in cooperating with activist communities and developing multi-purpose projects.
Carpenter & Co. President and CEO Richard Friedman told to the subcommittee that he had no delusions of a simple planning process. “We’re used to dealing in high energy communities such as this,” he said. “Maybe we’ll regret it, but we’ll take a shot at it.”
Though originally planned as a UC development, Hufferd said Tuesday that the university hoped that Carpenter & Co. would ultimately buy the plot from Bank of America, making the hotel a purely private venture.
Friedman said his first call of action would be to hire an architect and urban design firm to work with the city and university on designing the development. He said he has already signed on Interstate Hotels, an independent chain, to run the future complex.
The current concept calls for putting the hotel and conference center at the Bank of America site and, in a second stage, locating the museums at the landmarked UC Print Press at Oxford and Center streets and the University Hall Parking Structure at Oxford and Addison streets.
Friedman said he envisioned the development also having some housing, parking and restaurants, and that he remained open to other concepts, including shuffling around the buildings. The eventual designer, Friedman said, could be selected by a competition or by a financier.
“We come to the project without any preconditions. We’re completely clean slate,” he said.
Mayor Tom Bates lauded the university’s decision to pick Friedman’s company from a pool of eight applicants. “We’re fortunate to get a team like this,” Bates said. “We’re a challenging community and I’m sure [Friedman] will work with us.
City officials estimate the proposed complex, announced last November, could raise upwards of $1 million in tax revenue annually for Berkeley, which in recent years has lost hotel guests to a slew of new hotels in Emeryville.