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Downtown Museum and Film Archive Architect Sought By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 09, 2005

Plans for a downtown UC Berkeley museum complex moved to the forefront Tuesday when the university issued a call for a project design architect. 

Construction, tentatively slated to begin in May, 2009, would include the demolition of a Berkeley landmark, the UC printing plant at the southwest corner of Center and Oxford Streets. Also headed for the wrecking ball is the adjoining university parking structure at the southwest corner of the Addison Way/Oxford Street intersection. 

In their place would rise a complex that would house the Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) as well as an underground parking area. The tentative end date for construction would be the end of November 2011, with the museum opening scheduled for April 2012. 

Total costs for the complex are estimated between $60 million and $80 million, all of which would come from private donors, said Kevin Hufferd, UC Capital Projects senior planner. 

Hufferd said the project will be developed in tandem with the planned hotel and convention center the university is developing with leading hotelier Carpenter & Co. for the western end of the block at the corner of Center Street and Shattuck Ave. 

The museum and PFA project would include 35,000 square feet of gallery space, 11,000 square feet for three theater/lecture hall spaces with seating capacities from 100 to 400, plus space for a film archive library, classrooms, staff offices and additional support space. 

Other features include a bookstore and restaurant, as well as a rooftop capable of hosting public events. 

Dona Spring, the City Councilmember who represents the downtown area, said she greeted the announcement with mixed feelings, saying the museum and film archive complex would be “a great shot in the arm for the downtown and the Berkeley Arts District.” 

But the demolition of the University Press building, she said, would be a great loss. 

“I can’t imagine that destruction of the building where the United Nations Charter was printed would help with their fund-raising,” Spring said. “They should use part of the building at least,” she said.  

John English, author of the proposal that earned the building landmark status when it was adopted by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in June 2004, said the building was unique because of its role in history—the 1945 printing of the U.N. Charter—as well as its history as a distinguished press. 

“The production area is spacious and well-lighted and could be well adapted to museum space,” English said of the 1939 example of New Deal Moderne architecture. 

“It’s also the university’s first significant building project west of Oxford Street,” he said. 

Neither Spring nor English said they had any reservations about demolition of the parking structure. 

Hufferd said the hotel project is moving ahead, with the last significant remaining issue being finding a new location for the Bank of America branch, which at the northeast corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street occupies a key portion of the hotel site. 

“We’ve worked intensively on the issue over the last few months, and it’s really the role of the hotel developer to take the lead in finding a replacement site,” he said. 

The 12-story hotel and associated convention center would be designed in part to house attendees at university conferences and athletic events.  

Hufferd said Carpenter & Co. officials held meetings with Mayor Tom Bates, City Manager Phil Kamlarz and city planning staff in the fall. He added that the mayor had also offered to place the hotel complex on a fast track for development independent of the Downtown Area Plan process mandated in the settlement of a city suit against the university earlier this year. 

“But after hearing more, the developer agreed to continue alongside the Downtown Area Plan process,” Hufferd said. “Of course the developer also hopes the downtown planning process will continue along its current course and timeline,” which calls for a completed plan to be finished within the next 18 months. 

Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks said he hadn’t heard about the fast-tracking proposal, but said that folding the project into the new Downtown Area Plan process was the appropriate move, in part because the plans call for a taller structure than is now allowed in the city center. 

By incorporating the hotel and the museum complex into the new planning process, city staff and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee will be able to look at the cumulative impacts of the projects, Marks said. 

While the documents posted this week don’t mention the proposal of the city’s UC Hotel Task to turn Center Street into a pedestrian mall possibly centered on a daylighted Strawberry Creek, “We recognized the strong community interest in making the street a premier pedestrian environment,” Hufferd said. 

“We need to accommodate either a plaza alone or a plaza and creek and let the community decide,” he said. “We can then come up with the plans.” 

Hufferd said the block would contain either one or two underground lots—in the latter case, one each for the hotel/convention center and the PFA and art museum complex. Both could share a common entrance, he said. 

The university official said he wasn’t sure what would happen with the current art museum and PFA buildings. The former is seismically unsafe and the latter was built as a temporary structure pending development of a permanent home, Hufferd said. 

The museum/PFA time schedule allots only four months for the preparation of a project environmental review, which Marks said might be enough because the complex—unlike the hotel project—was included in the EIR for the university Long Range Development Plan for 2020. 

The new downtown plan process was included in a settlement of the city’s suit against the university, sparked by concerns over the more than one million square feet of addition space the university plans to build within city limits, most of it downtown.