Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

The traditional call at the start of the Indianapolis 500 race was “Gentlemen, start your engines!” but according to Wikipedia a couple of variants were created when female drivers joined the ranks. I’m not an auto racing fan — I don’t get any real enjoyment of watching cars running around an oval — but that phrase is so well known that it came to mind almost immediately when Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s entry into “Stage 2.” Stage 2, as you probably already know, consists of the first few tiny steps along the long and winding path to a full economic recovery.

Here in Redwood City we’ve been sheltering in place since March 16, meaning that most of us have been almost entirely at home for the past 53 days. For us that first shelter-in-place order came not from the State of California — its came three days later, on March 19 — but from San Mateo County. In these trying times we have to look for direction from a number of levels: from the Federal government, from the state government, from the county government, and even from the City of Redwood City. Because our Governor is allowing counties to lag behind the pace of the state, the Stage 2 declaration doesn’t have a direct impact on those of us in San Mateo County as yet. But keep an eye on the news: the county could alter their order at almost any time.

At the end of April — prior to Stage 2 — our county’s Health Officer issued the most recent alteration to the shelter-in-place order, allowing for some measure of relief. Providing that they can do their work safely, gardeners were given the green light to go back to work. Real estate agents can, with some limitations, once again allow potential buyers to tour prospective homes. Childcare providers and summer camps can again do their thing, as long as the groups of kids are limited to 12 or less, as long as those same 12 kids (or fewer) are in the same group each day, and as long as children don’t change from one group to another. Finally, construction of all types is allowed to resume. No longer is construction limited solely to housing projects that will make at least 10% of their units available to low-income households, to public works projects, and to projects that involve maintenance of “essential infrastructure.”

The revised order, which took effect on Monday, May 4, meant that Redwood City’s many construction projects that have been idled since April 1 could resume. Curious as to how quickly these projects would get back underway, on Tuesday I took a 9.5 mile walk in order to visit as many of Redwood City’s projects as I could.

The Health Officer’s orders applied to construction projects big and small. Wandering through a handful of Redwood City’s residential neighborhoods it quickly became clear that contractors working on single-family homes throughout the city were not hesitant about getting back to work: all over the place I saw contractors remodeling homes and building new ones. To be honest, though, during the month when construction was supposed to be halted I witnessed a handful of residential construction projects that didn’t appear to have halted. Whether or not they had permission to work back then, as long as they take some basic precautions they are now free to work. Along with our many landscape crews and gardeners, I should add: I saw more than a handful of those folks out working as well.

One construction project that continued throughout the past month, apparently with permission, was the building of the Magical Bridge playground in Red Morton Park. I’ve been paying visits to the playground over the last couple of weeks, and was delighted to see the project continuing to make good progress. I noted that the workers seemed to be keeping their distance from one another, and that many were wearing masks. As well, there are prominent signs at the project entrance outlining the safety protocols that workers need to observe. This of course will be the model for all construction workers going forward, at least until we have a vaccine.

As for the project itself, most of the playground’s equipment seems to be in place, and I witnessed a couple of workers finishing up the two-story playhouse (that also includes a stage upon which kids can put on impromptu performances). Since my last visit a number of small teepee-shaped structures have sprung up throughout the playground, providing areas where kids can hide or simply find a bit of calm in the middle of what will surely be a very boisterous place:

In various places the playground is also sporting a great number of newly planted trees, to go with the many mature trees that were carefully preserved as part of the building process:

Moving on, I headed over to Woodside Road, wanting to make sure that the rebuild of the fire-damaged Hallmark House apartment building was truly underway. I’m delighted to report that it is: I could see evidence of activity and could hear the sounds of the construction (well, at this point, demolition) workers emanating from the building’s ground-floor garage (inside of which the workers seem to be parking, incidentally). But along the way I passed by 910 Woodside Road, the former home of Thaibodia Restaurant. That restaurant (which closed their Redwood City store at the end of last month) will be torn down and replaced with a 10-unit condominium building. I’ve been waiting for this project to get underway for literally years now, and finally it seems that it is. As you can see in the following picture, there was a guy apparently doing some sort of surveying on the property when I was there:

He’s to the left in the above picture, in case your eye was immediately drawn, as mine was, to the magnificent Bougainvillea plant covering a significant part of the restaurant building. If you happen to be in the area, you might want to give the plant a gander: regretfully, when the building comes down, so too will this magnificent crimson plant. In the event you want to go by and see it, I should also mention that a sign posted on the building announced that between May 10 and June 10 crews will be installing underground utilities across Woodside Road. The sidewalk on this side of Woodside Road will be inaccessible during that period, and I imagine that there may be some disruption to the traffic along Woodside Road as well.

I wasn’t really expecting to see anything, but just in case I next checked up on Broadway Plaza. As you undoubtedly know, the shopping center at the corner of Woodside Road and Broadway is to be replaced by a large mixed-use project consisting of three office buildings and three apartment buildings, one of which will include a small amount of retail space. Some time ago most of the shopping center was torn down and a portion of the parking lot was removed so that soil testing on the site could be done. That soil testing was expected to take about a year, so I didn’t really expect to see much activity. And truly, I didn’t see a lot. But I was pleased and a bit surprised to see soil testing going on in a different part of the site, near the back corner of the one remaining business, the CVS drug store:

Because CVS owns their building, and isn’t interested in leaving this part of Redwood City, the developer of the Broadway Plaza project will be constructing a new CVS drug store immediately across Woodside Road from this site. CVS will then move into their new store, after which the old store will be torn down and replaced by office buildings.

So far, demolition and soil testing are all that seem to have been done on this project. There was a small two-story office building on the site where the new CVS will go; that was torn down some time ago. But beyond that, there is as yet no visible evidence of construction activity.

Heading over to downtown Redwood City, I passed by 1180 Main St. (across from the Main & Elm restaurant), where a new three-story building is to be constructed. During the month-long construction halt this project stopped, and when I went by on Tuesday I didn’t see any evidence of it restarting. However, I was in the area on Friday and checked back in, and there was plenty of work going on. So chalk up another project that is back underway.

The repurposing of the old Young’s Automotive building at 929 Main St. was next on my list, and it, too, was underway. As was the large office/retail building going up at 851 Main St.:

I took the above picture from the back of the building. As you can see, they’ve temporarily closed off Walnut Street to facilitate construction — which of course was very much underway on Tuesday, just one day after construction was allowed to resume.

Because they met the criteria for allowable construction, the Arroyo Green senior living project and the 20-condominium Habitat for Humanity project never did stop, and they were indeed active when I went by earlier this week. The nearby six-story office building being constructed in the crook of the Marston apartment building at 610 Walnut St., on the other hand, has sat idle since April 1. When I went by on Tuesday I didn’t see any activity, but I will admit that I was there late in the day and they might have already knocked off work. I went by again on Wednesday, though, and there was plenty of activity on the site. At the moment they’ve dug the rather deep hole needed for the building’s underground garage; it shouldn’t be long before they pour the garage’s cement floor and then start working their way upwards:

Continuing along Main Street — it is amazing how many projects are taking place somewhere along Main Street in Redwood City these days — I came to 353 Main St., the site of what will one day be a seven-story affordable apartment building. For some reason progress on this particular project has been slow, and from my visit on Tuesday that has not changed: comparing a picture I took on Tuesday with one I took on April 21 showed virtually no differences. I’ll have to check into this project…

Further down the street, I was again delighted when I came to the Highway 101 Undercrossing project: it is looking really good.

Not only is the pathway itself clearly taking shape, but I was really happy to see the new streetlights that now line the path. These old-fashioned lights (in the above picture, you can see one just to the left of the dark power pole) are going to add some real charm, not to mention make the pathway much safer at night. If you drive along Main Street to the entrance to Kohl’s Plaza you’ll see that they follow the path across and then a little way down Main Street itself.

From there I headed back home by way of Convention Way. I was interested to note that our Infiniti dealership (Peninsula Infiniti) has closed, and that Toyota 101, currently located just across the freeway, seems to be moving in.

Of course, I next had to check up on our Chick-fil-A, at which, no surprise, it was all hands on deck:

This restaurant, which is replacing the McDonald’s on Whipple Avenue, is moving right along. From peeking over the fencing it appears that the building itself is nearly done — some work is going on inside, but the exterior looks complete — and that they just need to pour the driveways and the parking areas in order to get this place wrapped up. Their timing turned out to be pretty good, it seems: this restaurant looks to be almost entirely focused on the drive-thru. It doesn’t appear to have much of an interior dining space.

There are 15 projects listed as “Under Construction” on Redwood City’s Development Projects web page. Of them, two I consider to be complete (2075 Broadway and “Stanford in Redwood City”), leaving 13. One I haven’t checked on lately (“Leahy Apartments Upgrade”). Of the remaining 12, only 353 Main Street was not actively being worked on when I went by this week (and it is certainly underway; it just seems to have stalled for the moment). Plus, three of the six projects listed as “Approved” (910 Woodside Road, “Strada – 1548 Maple Street”, and “Broadway Plaza”) are actively in various stages of site preparation.

Before April 1 there was a great deal of construction going on in Redwood City, but the county Health Officer’s order acted like a caution flag at the Indy 500, causing nearly all of the racers to freeze their positions. Now, though, the latest order is as if the caution flag was lifted: the various racers — er, construction projects — have once again put their foot on the gas and are again racing to completion. As I can personally attest, construction in Redwood City is back. And this is one race that I truly enjoy watching.

6 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

  1. Thank you for your cover photo. That plant is magnificent! I am so sad to see it go. We were regulars of the restaurant and would be in awe every time we went there. I wish there was some way to transplant it but I’m sure it would die if it was moved.

  2. It is! Though as an avid cyclists I’ve never seen so many people out on bikes…so I suppose it isn’t surprising. Hopefully people will really look at bike and pedestrian infrastructure in a new light after all of this.

  3. I’m glad construction has started again for the workers getting paid. Also I looked on Zillow today and Redwood City downtown has so many vacant apartments for rent. Hopefully Redwood City will not become Deadwood City again.😕

  4. Happy to see construction starting back up. I’m assuming Toyota 101 is temporarily moving into the old Infiniti dealership while they rebuild their spot across 101…or maybe they’ve completely ditched that plan and are getting cheap rent across the way. It will be interesting to see if any of the proposed projects end up pulling out due to the current economic situation. The Greystar proposal comes to mind…I’m afraid to think of how many restaurants we might be permanently losing downtown…really all retail. On the plus side I hear some of the local bike shops are busier than ever.

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