Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

Although I’m in my mid-fifties, I must confess that I still find myself getting excited as the calendar approaches Christmas. Some people feel that Christmas is more of a children’s holiday, but if so then I must still be one myself. Even though my own children have grown and gone—neither of my boys were with us last Christmas—I still get that happy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I wake up on Christmas morning. As a mature adult, of course, I’m somewhat more restrained than I once was, but inside I’m still just itching to tear into my presents! And just so that you don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just as excited to see my family open the presents that I’ve given to them. It’s the joy of the day, and the excitement of getting, or seeing someone get, a really great gift.

By now you’re probably wondering why, in mid-April, I’m talking about Christmas. It’s just that the fact that I’ve never quite outgrown the childlike excitement that revs me up during the holidays may explain why, when I see evidence of a new project, restaurant, or store coming to Redwood City, I find myself making the mental leap forward and eagerly anticipating the project’s completion or the restaurant’s or store’s opening. This is regardless of how I feel about the project itself, I must hasten to add; whether or not I feel that the project should be built at all, or as planned, the little kid in me just loves the process: the demolition, the construction, and all of the heavy machinery that is used throughout.

On multiple occasions I’ve been given an insider’s view into restaurants being created and opened. As well, I know something about construction projects: over the years my wife and I have done several significant remodels, and one occasion we even endured the construction of an entire house from scratch. So you think that I’d get it that construction projects take time—a lot of time. Intellectually I do get it, but I suspect that my excitement to see the finished project causes me to cast logic aside and instead base my estimate of when a project will be completed on wishful thinking. Projects always seem to take longer than we want them to, and the numerous unseen issues that have to be dealt with before a project even breaks ground can be both mysterious and frustrating.

I was thrilled to attend last Monday’s City Council meeting, at which the Council deliberated and ultimately gave MidPen Housing the green light to build a 108-unit senior housing facility on four city-owned lots on Bradford Street (near Main Street). The facility that has been proposed is an attractive one, aimed at seniors making less than 50% of the median income for our area. Rents will be as low as $200 per month for some (and they can even go lower; they’re based on a fixed percentage of the resident’s income) and should top out at $1099 per month. The facility will also have a much-needed preschool/childcare center, and will include a public trail along Redwood Creek. The project’s presenter mentioned that this trail will be the first segment of a “downtown-to-the-Bay” trail that should eventually allow those of us who love to walk a new way to transit between the city’s heart and its rapidly developing waterfront.

I’ve included a picture below, but you can see their full preliminary design here, and their full proposal here.

Due to the nature of the Bradford Street project, for the next 18 months or so all of the work will take place behind the scenes. Plans will be finalized and financing will be arranged, after which time we’ll finally see shovels go into the ground. Another 18 months or so should see project completion: MidPen Housing plans to open the project’s doors in early 2019. Personally, I can’t wait! And neither can the City Council, apparently; as part of their discussion around the project, various council members tossed out ideas for ways in which the project can be speeded up. As at least one member noted, we need this project now!

Another Redwood City project that I have long been waiting for was the completion of the Terrace Apartments (now called “926 Woodside”). I’ve written before about the terrible fire that ravaged this 75-unit apartment building on Woodside Road. Since that fire on October 17, 2013, I’ve kept a close eye on the place, and was excited when I first saw evidence of rebuilding. Butler Construction’s work is now complete, and the completely refurbished units—all either studios or one-bedroom apartments—are now leasing. The apartments themselves have been upgraded with higher-end appointments, while the building now has fire sprinklers and sports a new, more up-to-date look:

These are all market-rate units, but the owners are asking nowhere near what some of the new downtown apartments are fetching. At 926 Woodside, $2,100 per month gets you a 464-square-foot studio, while $3,300 puts you into a 775-square-foot one-bedroom ground-floor apartment. That $3,300 is admittedly at the top end of the range, however: most of the one-bedroom units run between $2,500 and 2,700 per month.

Moving on down the street, I am pleased to report that, at long last, it appears that the Hallmark House apartment building, which burned in July of 2013, seems to be showing some evidence of reconstruction activity. I need to spend some more time there to be sure, but some of the green privacy screening, which had become tattered and torn over the past year or so of inactivity, appears to have been replaced (on the northeast side; the southwest side still is draped in torn and stained privacy cloth). As well, looks as if some of the scaffolding surrounding the building may have been updated. All good signs, to my eye, that reconstruction work on this much-needed supply of low-income housing is finally getting back underway.

Regular readers of this blog know well that I’m excited to see that the Emerald Market center is making progress; my excitement for this small project is such that I now check it weekly, to make sure I don’t miss anything. This week I was thrilled when, upon approaching the center, I saw that the center’s signage had been updated:

Bonfire Markets, Inc. is a Milpitas-based company that sells franchises for retail grocery stores in Northern California (their motto: “Fine Foods Fast”). They have over 38 locations, apparently; ours seems to be the newest among those.

While I was exploring the center I peered in the windows and had my enthusiasm dampened somewhat when I realized that little visible progress had been made since my last visit. But although I saw little evidence of change inside either of the two restaurant spaces or in the market space, I remain greatly cheered by the new signage (which I noted is on one of the trash receptacles as well). At long last we have confirmation that we really are getting a small market/liquor store to replace the former Emerald Market. And I did note work did appear to be taking place on the outside of the building, where the utilities are connected. So although the project is moving slower than I’d like, it is continuing to make progress. Soon—very soon, I hope!—the market and the two new restaurants will be open, and we Redwood City residents will have new places to explore.

Frustrating the little kid inside of me, there is one major downtown project that almost appears to be moving backwards. After a lot of hard work, numerous modifications, and a great deal of back-and-forth between the developer, the city, and some of the neighbors, in November of last year Redwood City’s City Council finally approved the office project at 601 Marshall. After disappointing many with the initial design, the developer ultimately chopped a number of floors from the tower and completely reworked the building’s exterior to make it fit in more cleanly with our classic downtown. Once the project was approved I naively thought we’d see some evidence of building activity on the property soon after. However, a full five months later, not only has there been no evidence of any construction, but the small one-story office that occupies the majority of the site continues to host the legal firm that has been there for a number of years now. And they’ve even landed a second tenant: Yummly, a tech firm that curates online recipes (for cooking). It isn’t clear when Yummly relocated their headquarters from their original Palo Alto location, but its possible that they’ve been in Redwood City for a couple of years now. If they’ve actually been in 601 Marshall all that time, there has been little evidence until recently: only a couple of weeks ago did Yummly’s signage go up around the building. I say “around,” and not “on,” since the building itself sports no company names. Instead, the word “Yummly” has been added to one of the building’s doors and to some of the small metal signs in the parking lot.

Once a project such as 601 Marshall is approved, there are a number of steps that have to take place before ground is broken, so I of course know that the developer is most likely drawing up construction plans, getting the required permits, and perhaps firming up their project financing. The little kid in me just wants to see heavy machinery move onto the site, first to demolish the rather nondescript buildings that are there today and then to begin construction on the new 8-story office tower that will be located there in the future. But I force myself to listen to the echo in my head of my parent’s voices near Christmastime, telling me to be patient. After all, things will move along, and one day soon that little kid within me will get his Christmas morning: the demolition, the construction, and, finally, the completed project.

Encore Books, the bookstore in Courthouse Square beneath the San Mateo County History Museum, is having their semi-annual book sale this Saturday and Sunday (April 16 and 17) from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Their normal prices are low as it is; I cannot imagine how cheap their books will be this weekend! Encore Books has more than 25,000 “gently used” books for sale, and all proceeds go towards the San Mateo County Historical Association. They have books of all sorts: fiction and non-fiction, hardback and paperback; you name it, they probably have it. If you have any interest in books at all, do yourself a favor and drop in on their sale this weekend.

April 21-27, 2016 is Redwood City’s annual Restaurant Week. Participating restaurants will be serving a special multi-course, prix fixe dinner menu just for the week. Restaurants this year truly do range from A-Z: from Aly’s on Main to Zadna Mediterranean Cuisine. Nearly all of the popular cuisines are represented, including American, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. For the full list of participating restaurants, along with the menus that each will be serving for this special event, head over to And note that in many cases you’ll want to make reservations.

3 thoughts on “Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

  1. Jeff…kudos on yet another stellar blog entry. I admire your writing skills and your continued coverage of our City Council meetings. I strongly encourage others to consider checking out our new Council in action. It’s an excellent time to get involved!

    One minor quibble regarding your coverage of 601 Marshall. While the developer did indeed change the original contemporary design to a more traditional choice, he didn’t exactly “chop a number of floors”. They took the original plan, changed the style, made some minor modifications and lowered the entire building two floors underground. The original plans had the building entirely above ground. So while the aesthetics and design have admittedly improved, the impacts on the community have remained the same. Like you, I’m very anxious as well to see this project get started. The developer spent a bunch of money on an improved design and I’m eager to see how it all turns out.

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