Someone should do a study — me, perhaps — about why development projects seem to get underway in groups. We go months and months with a number of approved projects doing their behind-the-scenes prep work, and then all of a sudden several of them break ground at nearly the same time. You would think that they would have no connection to one another, and would start at various random times, but it feels as if a bunch of developers get together and agree on a starting date. Of course, likely this is all just my imagination taking flight. But I will note that in the last couple of weeks three different projects, all of which received city approval at wildly differing times, have suddenly gotten underway.
When a project is first proposed I usually put the site on my list of places to photograph, just so I have a record of what was there before the new project is built. I then usually visit it again when the project is approved, even though I know that little is likely to have changed in the interim. Mostly I’m curious to see if the current tenant(s) — assuming that there are any — are still there, and are showing any signs of moving. Afterwards I try to pay periodic visits to the site, hoping to catch the onset of construction. But projects usually take many months between being approved and when they break ground (if they ever do; some projects fail to go forward after being approved, usually due to changes in the project economics), and after several visits to the site with little to show for it, unless the site is along a path that I regularly travel anyway my visits become much less frequent. Thus, it is just luck when I manage to visit a site close to when construction begins (which is often the demolition phase; most projects here in Redwood City begin with the tearing down of an existing building, since we have very few empty lots on which a developer can build).
One such site where I completely missed the demolition phase is 610 Walnut St. This site is very much “out of sight, out of mind” since the Marston luxury apartment building blocks view of the site from both Main and Marshall streets. Only if you wander onto the section of Walnut St. between Marshall and Bradford streets, or if you follow Bradford St. to where it dead-ends into the Kaiser Permanente complex, will you see the site. Up until a couple of weeks ago, it held a two-story office building surrounded on two sides by surface parking — an office building that for years was home to Yummly, the recipe recommendation company.
Once it became clear that this building was coming down, however, Yummly relocated to Palo Alto. I visited the site last week, and this is what I saw:
At that point all evidence of the former office building was gone, and the dirt lot that remained was neat and clean. I then visited it again this week, and saw this:
The lot is still fairly smooth, although some shallow trenches have been dug around the perimeter of the property. And, as you can see, they’ve brought a drilling rig to the site, presumably to place footings for the new building as well as to help construct the new building’s one level of underground parking.
For the record, this project was approved by the Planning Commission last February, so it took about nine months from approval to the onset of construction. As for what the contractor — W. L. Butler, a Redwood City-based contracting firm, not to be confused with the project’s developer, Windy Hill Property Ventures — will be building, this will be a six-story office building with four stories of actual office space above a three-level parking garage, with one level of that garage being placed below ground. This new building will be a tad shorter than the Marston building you can see in the above pictures, and will come close to touching the Marston building on two sides. As you can see, though, where the two buildings will come closest the Marston building has large blank walls; that apartment building was designed with the redevelopment of this site in mind. The Marston has a somewhat elevated common area, just behind where the heavy equipment is sitting in the above picture. The top three floors of the 610 Walnut St. building will actually look out onto this common area. And of course all of the office floors will have views out onto both Bradford and Walnut streets.
Next up is another office building, this one at 1180 Main St. Although this building is only three stories tall (with two levels of underground parking) it will have nearly twice as much office space as the 610 Walnut St. project, with 105,966 square feet. This particular project is a rare one in that it is being built on a mostly empty lot. It wasn’t always empty, however. At one time the lot — which sits across Elm St. from the Main & Elm restaurant — was home to a handful of buildings that were home to Marcelli Lighting, Chub’s Auto Repair, and a custom window and door installation firm. But in 2009 the city granted approval to a developer who aimed to construct a 114-bed skilled nursing facility on the site. The lot was cleared, and for a short while construction was underway. But work soon ground to a halt, and then the lot sat, mostly empty and unused, until a week or two ago, when construction fences went up and heavy equipment once again moved in. So far that equipment seems to have been used to dig one small hole, but I expect that very soon work will begin in earnest.
This is an oddly shaped lot. It is five-sided, being shaped a bit like home plate on a baseball diamond. Thanks to the fact that Redwood Creek runs through the lot, however, the buildable portion of the lot is actually more triangular in shape. Thus, the building itself will be in the shape of a triangle with one corner cut off. That corner, which is close to where Maple St. crosses the Caltrain tracks, will sport a wide, public staircase that will not only provide access to the building, but can also serve as a great place to sit and eat lunch.
The portion of the lot through which Redwood Creek runs will be heavily landscaped, and will include a bridge that crosses the concrete channel through which the creek flows (when there is enough water for it to actually flow). This landscaped portion will include a couple of seating areas and a “coffee hut” made from a shipping container. All of this will be open to the public, providing a nice little space for all of us to sit and enjoy the creek.
The 1180 Main St. project received Planning Commission approval last July, and construction appears to have started last week. That makes it about 3-1/2 months from approval to groundbreaking, which is very quick for a project such as this. It indicates that the developer, Premia Capital, did their homework and was nearly ready to go when the project was approved. Given that they’ve worked with the city in the recent past on a somewhat similar project — they are the folks who brought us the six-story triangular office building at 550 Allerton St. — they likely knew just what the city was going to ask of them, and were prepared.
The six- and seven-story affordable housing project that got underway just a week or three ago at 353 Main St., however, is a somewhat different story. This project went through a couple of incarnations before ending up with the 125-unit apartment building that received Planning Commission approval in March of 2018 (approval that was confirmed when the City Council denied an appeal of the project in May of that same year). Just two or three weeks ago ROEM Development, the project’s developer, finally commenced demolition of the long and narrow single-story medical office building that stood on the site.
Given that it has been nearly 19 months since the project approval was upheld, my visits to the site had become infrequent indeed. But in January of this year I noted that the building’s tenants were all moving out, warning me that something was up. Then, in April, construction fencing went up around the property. Finally, seven months after the construction fencing was erected, the building has finally been taken down.
As you can see, this affordable housing project — 63 of the units will be for those qualifying for assistance at the Very Low income level, while the remaining 62 units will be for those at the Low income level — will sit right next door to the 132-unit Township apartment complex. Township is largely a luxury apartment complex, although 17 of its units are affordable. Both complexes will sit on the edge of Redwood Creek, and 353 Main St. will construct a section of the creek trail on the land between the building and the creek, a section that will link up with the very short segment built along with the Township apartment building project.
With these projects now truly underway, Redwood City staff should be able to shift all three from the “Approved” category to the “Under Construction” category on their Development Projects webpage. In looking at that page, there are a couple of others that I’d move as well: 929 Main St. is humming along now (finally!) and of course the 1548 Maple Street project, although not yet in a position to actually construct any buildings, is well along in the process of building up the site — it lies along Redwood Creek on the east side of Highway 101 — to protect it from sea level rise. If those aren’t enough, I can see a couple of other projects in the “Approved” category that likely will be breaking ground soon…
Although unrelated to the three projects I just discussed, I thought I would mention that the US Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing Project is now at the phase where they are building out the path that will extend from the undercrossing itself out to Main St. I was over that way just today and I was temporarily prevented from driving into the Sports Basement parking lot from Main St. due to construction. The sidewalk on the southeast side of Main St. has been all torn up, and the ground has been prepped on the northwest side for a new sidewalk.
The street was reopened shortly after I was prevented from driving into the shopping center parking lot, so don’t assume that it’ll be closed if you are heading to Sports Basement in the next couple of weeks. But it could be; be prepared to use Walnut Street to enter the shopping center.
Speaking of Sports Basement, their next-door neighbor, Big 5 Sporting Goods, is closing. Like me, you probably wondered how Big 5 could survive with the giant Sports Basement right next door, and now we have our answer: they can’t.
And speaking of closings, thanks to Elena Kadvany of Palo Alto Online I learned that Revere Coffee & Tea, located at 2074 Broadway, has closed. I was not surprised to read that the store’s owner thinks that our market for coffee shops has become oversaturated. Certainly, with the near-simultaneous openings of Coffeebar just down the street and Coupa Café not too far away, not to mention Mademoiselle Colette, the market for a small independent coffee shop suddenly got a lot tougher, and, regretfully, Revere Coffee & Tea appears to have been the first casualty.
Now that the three projects I opened this post with are underway, I’ll once again be paying them regular visits. I try to keep tabs on the progress of all active development projects in Redwood City, and whether or not the city moves them to the “Under Construction” category on their webpage, I certainly will be treating them just like all of the other projects currently under construction in Redwood City. The list of which is getting long again! Which of course seems to be the norm here in Redwood City these days…