Mountain View Voice

News - May 11, 2012

No more housing, Mayfield mall site now set for offices

Pedestrian tunnel and park space killed with housing plan

by Daniel DeBolt

It took almost a decade of contentious planning and untold millions to design, but the 27-acre housing community planned for the Mayfield Mall site has been ditched for a $90 million deal to re-use the existing buildings as an office campus.

Citing the demand from tech companies for an office campus near a Caltrain station, Rockwood Capital and Four Corners Properties have paid $90 million for the 500,000-square-foot building at 100 Mayfield Ave. that once housed the region's first indoor mall, built in 1966. It was set to be demolished this year but instead the property will undergo a renovation and be renamed "San Antonio Station."

It's news sure to grab Google's attention. Thanks to the company's growth, no other office campuses are available in Mountain View.

"It just shows how cyclical our area is," said council member Laura Macias. "It's either feast or famine with commercial or feast or famine with residential. I'm sure they saw in Mountain View that people are dying for commercial space."

Neighbors are happy that things will stay much the same after wrestling with the planning of the housing development for years, even though the final 260-unit iteration of the project, approved in December, was acceptable to most.

"It's fair to say that people are very happy," said Wouter Suverkropp, chair of the Monta Loma Neighborhood Association. "This is by far the most environmentally friendly way to deal with the site and will dramatically reduce the impact of years of construction in the neighborhood."

Suverkropp also noted that hundreds of old trees on the site would stay, "or at least it looks that way right now."

It won't be the first time the building was used this way. Hewlett Packard converted the building into office space in 1986, but it has lain vacant for much of a decade after the company consolidated elsewhere.

"We are seeing strong demand from companies who desire their own campus, but there are few, if any quality existing structures available and the majority of new construction is not designed for a true campus environment," said Bruce Burkard, principal at Four Corners Properties, in a press release. "San Antonio Station will also be ready for occupancy well in advance of new construction because we are simply renovating the existing property, which has incredible existing infrastructure."

The investment firms purchased the property from William Lyon Homes, which went into bankruptcy three months after the 260-unit housing project was approved in September. Suverkropp said he had predicted delays in the project after the bankruptcy news, but was surprised to hear from the new owners. They have been very communicative with the neighborhood association members, telling them it would only take a year to renovate the property, Suverkropp said.

It is relatively easy under the city's rules for the new owner to make such a major change in direction for the property, said Mountain View's planning director, Randy Tsuda.

"The re-occupancy of those office building was always permitted even under the new precise plan," Tsuda said, adding that City Council or city staff approval of the renovation would not be required unless architectural changes are made.

There are some drawbacks to the deal. A pedestrian tunnel required for the housing development would have gone under Central Expressway to the San Antonio train station, but is not required for the re-use of the buildings, Tsuda said. The tunnel was valued at $6 million, which William Lyon Homes had agreed to put into a developer agreement that goes with the title of the property. The requirement is only triggered if the approved housing project is built, though it could still be built if the new owners so desire, Tsuda said.

In a press release, the new owners cited the property's proximity to retail at "The Village at San Antonio Center," now under construction. But it is on the other side of the expressway, which workers would also need to cross on foot to get to and from the train station if commuting by train.

Access to both is apparently a major selling point for the new owners, who note in a press release "the strong demand for a campus located near Caltrain, as the site is across the street from Mountain View's San Antonio Caltrain stop, a 50-minute train ride from San Francisco."

Suverkropp says neighbors don't view the tunnel as a necessity for themselves.

"In the grand scheme of things, I don't think it's a top priority," Suverkropp said of neighborhood's desire for the tunnel. But Suverkropp said it was unfortunate to lose the three acres of public park space in the approved housing project plans.

"Traffic remains our No. 1 concern," Suverkropp said of the neighborhood, which is bordered by San Antonio Road and Central Expressway, both well known for traffic jams. Suverkropp said there are mixed opinions about whether the offices would mean more traffic, but "the traffic generated by the office building is likely to be more predictable than traffic generated by housing."

"Revitalizing the former Mayfield Mall, which is proximate to transit, housing and retail, is one of the 'greenest' forms of investment our firm can make," said Rockwood partner Bob Gray. "We are confident that a high quality renovation of San Antonio Station, which will include the latest building technology, will be well received by Silicon Valley companies."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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