Redwood City’s Rapid Changes

Redwood City Hall The Registry real estate

Sleepy downtown Redwood City wakes from its reverie.


By Josh Wein

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]peculative office building is returning to the Peninsula. For years, build-to-suit projects have been the norm in the Bay Area. But Redwood Towers, a new development planned for downtown Redwood City, will go up with or without a tenant.

Developer Deke Hunter, a managing member of Hunter Storm LLC, does not expect a problem. “There’s a movement afoot for employees to take residency in areas they think are hip and cool. Therefore you’re starting to see businesses positioning themselves to attract those employees,” whether they’re living in San Francisco’s Mission District or elsewhere, Hunter said. “The game-changer for the employer and employee is the ability to access heavy rail, whether that’s BART in the East Bay or Caltrain on the Peninsula.”

[quote]”That urban feel and access to transit is exactly what’s attracting so many tenants to San Francisco, and we think that relates to downtown Redwood City as well.” Mike Sanford, Kilroy Realty Corp., senior vice president.[/quote]

Today there are about 3.6 million square feet of commercial real estate in downtown Redwood City and about 26.8 million citywide. But community leaders have big plans for their quaint inner city and have adopted a downtown-specific development plan covering 180 acres. Today, there is more new housing on tap than has been built downtown in 50 years, representing a 150 percent increase to the number of downtown housing units.

The 300,000-square-foot Redwood Towers offices will be built steps from Redwood City’s Caltrain station platform. Baby Bullet express trains arrive three times each morning and evening to shuttle workers to and from San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. The ride lasts about 30 minutes—half the time that it does on a “local,” or non-express train.

Kilroy Realty Corp., Hunter-Storm’s Redwood City partner, expects to invest $160 million, about $533 a square foot, a small percentage of the more than $1.4 billion in estimated investments the Southern California office landlord has in its pipeline and under construction. That includes the price of buying the land—a former city parking lot.

So far, the city has an approved environmental impact statement to allow 2,500 new homes and 600,000 square feet of new downtown commercial development (500,000 square feet of offices and 100,000 square feet of retail). Already, with Redwood Towers and other developments, those housing and office thresholds are nearly 50 percent met. “It is happening quicker than we ever expected,” said Dan Zack, the city’s downtown development coordinator.

But the downtown plan’s development capacity is much larger than these figures suggest, with limits on development set not by floor-area ratios but maximum height—12 stories—parking, and building attributes and their effects on the environment. “We want wide, well-lit and shaded sidewalks lined by storefronts with windows and doors, and we want a lot of people coming and going, and we want it to be a fun comfortable place,” Zack said. Baby Bullet express service, which Caltrain commuter rail began in 2004, has helped to transform downtown, he said, bringing in technology company startups.

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Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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