By Meghan Hall
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Windy Hill Property Ventures is making the most of a downtown San Mateo property as it formalizes plans for a mixed-use development there. In February, the firm submitted its initial pitch for “Block 21,” a 235,578 square foot office and residential building. The project is being planned “down to the inches,” according to Windy Hill, in an effort not just to meet community and city expectations, but also because the developer is changing up its construction strategy.
Located at East 3rd Ave. and Delaware Street, the development will rise five stories in height. Included in the plans are 179,943 square feet of office space, as well as 68 residential units. The residences will be primarily one bedrooms as well as a handful of studios, and will be located on the upper to levels of the building, away from activity on the street. Two levels of parking, pedestrian and streetscape improvements, as well as outdoor spaces and roof decks are all planned.
“Really what we’re trying to do with this development is to build up a Class A product that will support the retail core of the downtown and that will also continue to improve the interface between the surrounding neighborhood and downtown,” explained Windy Hill’s Michael Field. “This is a fairly eclectic area, and the huge opportunity here is to do a cohesive development in this part of the community.”
Designed by San Jose, Calif.-based Arc Tec Inc., the building will feature a modern exterior with large windows, stucco, and cement boards. In a move that has been different from its past projects, Windy Hill is pursuing concrete construction of the development as opposed to steel. The decision to switch to concrete was due to a number of factors, according to Windy Hill. The strategy would allow for an additional level of residential units on the fifth floor. Additionally, due to the pandemic, concrete construction has become less expensive relative to steel, reducing the expected cost to the project.
“We did not do concrete before because just given the [development] environment in the Bay Area, fees are quite high, construction costs are quite high, and concrete construction was more expensive than steel,” said Field. “We just couldn’t afford it. But because we’re doing the project at scale, it’s big and because of COVID-19, the price of concrete construction has come down a bit in comparison to steel construction, and we are able to do this.”
Block 21 will be the first time that Windy Hill will be able to add two levels of residential on top of an office project. In its previous developments in San Mateo–such as its developments at Third & Claremont and Fourth & Claremont–just one level of residential could be accommodated. However, because concrete is being used, floor-to-ceiling heights will be smaller, meaning that careful planning will be needed to make not just residences and the office spaces feel spacious, but to accommodate building systems appropriately.
“We are down to the inches on engineering this building,” said Field. “We are going to have to be very deliberate. There is no room for error.”
For Windy Hill, the project has been a long time coming, as it took the developer nearly three years to assemble all of the parcels for the block-large development. According to Field, Windy Hill negotiated with 11 different property owners to assemble the land needed for the project.
Field declined to comment just how much Windy Hill paid for the assemblage, but stated it was more expensive than anticipated. Many of the former property owners were those who had inherited their assets, and had held onto their properties for years. Other previous owners, said Field, were foreign nationals who took months to track down before deals could be pitched and struck.
“It was incredibly complicated because there were [so many] different parcels,” said Field. “It was very difficult and expensive to acquire this many properties on one block…because you’re coming to people hat-in-hand.”
Currently, San Mateo City Staff are reviewing Windy Hill’s proposal. Timing, noted Field, will depend largely on how quickly City Staff, the Planning Commission and local community need to become comfortable with the proposal and approve the project. Field emphasized, however, Windy Hill is determined to bring the project to market.
“We have proven… that we’re not there to waste time,” stated Field. “…We are already invested.”