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Issue date: July 28, 2000

6-story office building approved for Castro 6-story office building approved for Castro (July 28, 2000)

Largest commercial downtown project since Mountain Bay Plaza will house law firm

By Jose Antonio Vargas

Approving the largest commercial construction project in the downtown since 1970, the city council voted unanimously July 25 to allow a six-story, 150,000-square-foot office building to be added to the corner of California and Castro streets.

The new building will be at 400 Castro Street, across the street from the single-story Tung Kee Noodle House restaurant and within the central core for downtown office development.

Carl Shannon, a senior director of Tishman Speyer Properties, the developer of the project, said that Fenwick & West, a high-tech law firm whose clients include such companies as Handspring, Intuit, and Veritas, will be the new building's main tenant.

Shannon indicated that construction is scheduled to begin between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15 and should be completed by January 2002; tenants might move in by March.

He also estimated that construction will cost about $50 million, in part because the building will have four levels of underground parking.

The project is the largest commercial building proposed for the downtown since 1970, when the adjacent 12-story Mountain Bay Plaza, which has a similar amount of square footage, was built.

The ground floor of the new building will cover 32,131 square feet and include two large retail areas along Castro Street. The retail areas are open to the linear plazas along Castro and California Streets, creating the opportunity for dining and other outdoor uses.

According to a staff report presented at the council meeting, the building is expected to generate about $450,000 a year in property tax and an unknown amount of sales tax revenue.

Ellis Berns, Mountain View's economic development manager, said that Tishman Speyer is taking an active role in recruiting businesses for the retail stores.

Tishman Speyer Properties requested a provisional permit allowing the portion of the ground floor located in the half block closest to Bryant Street to be used as office space. At the time, Tishman Speyer's retail consultant found that it would be difficult to attract high-quality retail stores to the space close to Bryant Street.

According to managing partner Greg Sueoka, Fenwick & West is the twelfth- largest law firm in California. It employs 275 lawyers and 550 full-time staff and currently has offices in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Palo Alto. He said that 40 percent of the firm's employees live in Mountain View.

He added that the firm is expecting an expansion in the next five years, with 360 lawyers planned to occupy the approved building.

Sueoka said that it's still uncertain whether Fenwick & West will occupy the ground floor office space. He said it could be used as the firm's reception room or conference center.

Before voting to approve the project, Mayor Rosemary Stasek expressed concerns that the retail floor plan for the ground floor level is large enough to attract chain stores.

She also worried that not putting a time limit on the conditional use of the office space on the ground floor would be preventing any kind of retail store to ever take that space.

Council member Ralph Faravelli disagreed, arguing that "retail will come when the market dictates it."

"The worst thing you can do to a downtown area is to have retail spaces sitting empty," Faravelli said. "If you do that, you eliminate the need of the customers walking downtown, and it affects all the other businesses. What makes a vibrant and vital downtown is all retail spaces being occupied." Council member Sally Lieber agreed, commenting, "Our responsibility is to deliver the best possible experience for the people in Mountain View. I think this project is a great addition to Mountain View."

Karen Cabello of the Downtown Business Association and Michael Couch of the Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the project.

Parking concerns raised at the February 15 study session led to the project's strong parking program, said Alison Kendal, zoning administrator for the Community Development Department.

The program incorporates: 1) a substantial amount of on-site parking, 526 spaces, in a four level underground garage; 2) a permanent, effective and attractive solution to the parking deficit for 444 Castro Street; 3) a $754,000 parking impact payment to offset impacts on city parking; 4) use of private parking for community events for major special events; and 5) reducing parking demand by providing a transit subsidy for employees.


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