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Downtown Hotel Plans Call for 19 Stories

By Richard Brenneman
Friday November 17, 2006

Builders of the hotel planned for the heart of downtown Berkeley want to build a 19-story building that at 205 feet would tower above the current reigning monarchs of the urban skyline, the Power Bar and Wells Fargo buildings. 

The structure would house 210 hotel rooms, 50 two- and three-bedroom condominiums and 200 underground parking spaces. Two public floors would house a bank, a pair of restaurants, a jazz club, a ballroom and meeting rooms. 

The building would stand on the northeast corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, directly across the avenue from the two older towers. 

Architectural sketches and massing studies were unveiled Wednesday night to the Down-town Area Plan Advisory Com-mittee (DAPAC), which is preparing a new downtown plan that could pave the way for construction of the high-rise. 

“We will incorporate it into the Downtown Area Plan to the degree that you allow,” Planning Director Dan Marks told DAPAC members. 

If its features are written into the plan, then the developers wouldn’t need a zoning variance or possibly even a use permit, said Marks. 

The impetus for both the new plan and the hotel complex came from UC Berkeley—the former as the result of a city lawsuit and the latter as the result of a recruiting effort to create a center that could accommodate university-related guests and meetings. 

The plans were presented by Peter Diana, vice president and general counsel for hotelier Carpenter & Co., architect Gary C. Johnson of Cambridge Seven Associates and UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture Donlyn Lyndon, who is also working on the design. 

While the Power Bar building, on the southwest corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, houses 13 stories in its 180 feet, the proposed structure across the street could accommodate six more floors with just 25 feet more in height because hotel rooms typically have lower ceilings than do offices, Diana said. 

The design consists of two central elements, a 70-foot-high structure that would house the hotel, banks, conference facilities, restaurants and jazz club, topped by a smaller, recessed tower that would house the condos and take the building to its full height. 

The lower structure would be close in scale to existing buildings along Shattuck Avenue, while its rooftop terrace—tentatively planned to house plantings, solar cells and solar water heating facilities in addition to public space—would match the height of the landmarked F.D. Chase Building immediately to the north on Shattuck. 

Cars and taxis would enter the hotel through a driveway off Shattuck adjacent to the Chase Building, and would either use a roundabout to turn around or drive into the ramp to reach the underground lot. 

While plans call for 200 parking spaces, Diana said the eventual number depends on the outcome of geotechnical studies which have just begun. With the exception of spaces for condo owners, other spaces would probably be available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, he said. 

With access to BART and other public transit immediately available, “we are hoping to get fewer car trips than other hotels,” Johnson said. Diana said transit accessibility would be stressed on the hotel’s Internet site. 

The hotel, currently dubbed The Berkeley Charles Hotel after Carpenter’s signature hotel in Cambridge, Mass., will be the country’s greenest, said Diana. 

“I’m concerned about the green elements and that if you go over budget, they’ll be the first to go,” said DAPAC member Jim Samuels. 

“The good thing about green elements is that they will save us money in the long run,” said Diana. “The project isn’t going to happen unless it pencils out, and we are committed to green because it saves money.” 

Juliet Lamont said she was concerned that the project designs presented a hard edge to the street, without any greenery—a trait shared with the hotel in Cambridge. “We are about greenery and trees and ecology and the environment,” she said. 

“We are just beginning an intensive effort,” Diana said, and engineers and green consultants will be weighing in on what additional elements can be incorporated into the plans. 

Jesse Arreguin and Rob Wrenn said they were concerned about traffic, and Marks said traffic studies for the hotel would be included in the environmental impact report prepared for the new downtown plan. 

That plan was mandated in the settlement of the city lawsuit filed early last year challenging the university Long Range Development Plan 2020, which includes more than a million square feet of additional university uses downtown. 

While developers and city officials are insistent the hotel should not be referred to as “the UC hotel,” the project arose out of a request for qualifications from the university and protracted negotiations between the university and their chosen developer. 

The city task force formed by the City Council at the request of the Planning Commission was called the UC Hotel Task Force. 

The university will have no ownership interest in the structure, although it will own part of the site, which Carpenter & Co. will lease. 

UC Berkeley is planning a new museum complex immediately east of the hotel site, and recently selected Japanese architect Toyo Ito to design the complex, which will take up a larger land area than the hotel. 

Bank of America agreed to sell the site only if the developer agreed to grant them a banking facility on the corner. While the bank initially demanded 13,000 square feet of ground floor space, Diana said that after tough negotiations, the bank agreed to allow half the space to be located in the underground parking area.