Four-Star Hotel in the Works for Downtown Berkeley

Suzanne La Barre
Friday June 16, 2006



Developers floated preliminary concepts for a high-rise hotel in downtown Berkeley Wednesday. 

The Boston-based Carpenter & Company offered a crowd of about 100 public officials, businesspeople and other community leaders a few details of the proposed four-star hotel at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue. 

The facility, to be named the Berkeley Charles Hotel, will include 210 guest rooms, a conference room, a ballroom, retail space and 50 residential condominiums, among other features. 

UC Berkeley spearheaded the project—and the hotel is slated for construction on university property—but development falls to Carpenter & Company. 

“This is a very exciting time for us,” said company president Dick Friedman in a lively presentation to stakeholders at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre Wednesday. “In addition to building hotels, we really care about communities and urban planning.” 

The hotel will have one of the best restaurants in Berkeley and possibly a jazz bar, he said. “It will look like it belongs in Berkeley, it will feel like it belongs in Berkeley,” he said.  

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., the architecture firm retained by the developer, will work with a local architect and a green building specialist in designing the hotel, Friedman said. 

The firm has planned several hotels in Massachussetts and elsewhere in the country, including the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass. and the St. Regis in San Francisco. The company also built an aquarium ine Lisbon, Portugal, a medical facility at Mass General and the Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. 

Gary Johnson, a principal for Cambridge Seven, said the general concept for the Berkeley Charles takes into account the design sensibilities of the surrounding structures and serves as a point of attraction for both visitors and residents. 

“We’re really interested in a hotel that’s like the city’s living room,” he said. 

The firm is open to a design that allows for the daylighting of Strawberry Creek, which runs beneath downtown, and a pedestrian-only Center Street, Johnson said. It could also be one of the greenest hotels in the country, he said.  

A hotel task force, formed by the Planning Commission, met for several months in 2004 to outline recommended features of the proposed development. A handful of members at Wednesday’s reception expressed support for the preliminary concepts. 

“I’m really pleased tonight,” said former task force chair Rob Wrenn. “I really feel like they took the task force’s recommendations into consideration.” Maintaining a design that allows Center Street to be closed to cars—as part of the larger revisioning process of downtown Berkeley--is very important, he said. 

City Councilmember Dona Spring also expressed her support. 

“It seems like a perfect match for Berkeley,” she said of the developers. “They’ve got a track record of involving the community. And I especially like the idea of making it an ecological building . . . This could be a vision of how to integrate our urban area with the natural world.” 

Mayoral candidate Zelda Bronstein, who was vice-chair of the hotel task force, was pleased with the presentation, but said she looked forward to more information. 

Carpenter & Company was selected by the university to develop a hotel in downtown Berkeley in 2004, but has met with some difficulties in getting the project underway, in large part because Bank of America owns a portion of the site proposed for building (the university owns the majority). Friedman said he is in the process of working out a deal with the bank—which will likely be incorporated into the hotel—and now expects the project to take on a faster pace. 

The company will formally present its plans to the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee June 21, after which point the rigorous planning process begins. Matt Taeker, principal planner for the Downtown Area Plan, says the hotel will undergo the “highest level” vetting process. 

The company plans to work closely with the community, Friedman said, adding: “This hotel will only be successful if Berkeley supports it.”