Posted: 09/22/2012 12:53:17 AM PDT
Updated: 09/22/2012 01:07:22 AM PDT
Palo Alto voters could be asked as soon as next March to pave the way for a sweeping mixed-use development that would dramatically transform the area between the University Avenue Caltrain station and El Camino Real into an "Arts and Innovation District."
Developer-turned-philanthropist John Arrillaga and the city have crafted a master plan that calls for four mixed-use office buildings totaling 263,000 square feet, a 70,000-square-foot performing arts center, a three-level underground garage, relocation and expansion of the Intermodal Transit Center, and better bicycle and pedestrian connections between the city and Stanford University.
"This project represents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the centrally located transitional area between Downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University, a prominent part of town where decades of plans have engendered little change," the city's current planning manager, Amy French, wrote in a report the city council is scheduled to discuss Monday.
Ranging in height from six to 10 stories, the four mixed-use office buildings would exceed the city's 50-foot height limit on new development. The master plan would also require a land swap at El Camino Park. For those reasons, city staff is recommending council members place a measure on the March 2013 ballot that would essentially permit the creation of a custom district.
The buildings would be arranged in pairs, with one set facing University Avenue and the other facing a new theater complex. Each pair would be linked by a pedestrian bridge.
Altogether, they would provide "world-class" headquarters space for companies on par with Facebook and Google, according to the report.
"The goal of the mixed use office buildings is for them to be designed as prominent, carefully constructed, contemporary office space to house premier Silicon Valley technology companies in Palo Alto, advancing Palo Alto's reputation as a global center of technology and innovation," French wrote.
Meanwhile, the performing arts center Arrillaga is offering to partially construct would bring TheatreWorks back to Palo Alto. The theater company, the third largest in the Bay Area, has accepted the offer, according to the report.
The master plan builds on earlier efforts to encourage usage of the Intermodal Transit Center and expand "cultural opportunities" for the communities of Palo Alto and Stanford, according to the report.
Arrillaga approached the city in 2011 with the initial idea of constructing a single office building at 27 University Ave. In March, the city council authorized spending $250,000 on preliminary design and environmental reviews of a project that also included a new theater as well as improved pedestrian and bicycle connections. The money came out of a $2.25 million fund Stanford paid the city in exchange for permission to overhaul and expand its medical facilities.
The effort ultimately resulted in the much larger master plan currently before council members. More work remains to be done, and the city council will be asked to spend another $286,000 on Monday.
According to French's report, the various transportation agencies that operate out of the Intermodal Transit Center have embraced the master plan. The busy hub would shift south and gain 17 stops for a total of 35.
Stanford, which owns most of the land, expressed support for the proposal in a Sept. 18 letter to the city council.
"John Arrillaga is an extraordinary, generous philanthropist who has provided great benefits to the University, as well as other local community projects," wrote Jean McCown, a former Palo Alto mayor who works in the university's Office of Government and Community Relations.
"Stanford is pleased that the City of Palo Alto will be giving this proposal its thoughtful and constructive consideration."