A pair of downtown parking lots will be rebuilt into a high-end hotel and office complex as a result of a City Council decision on Tuesday, Nov. 27. The project was approved in a 5-2 vote, with councilwomen Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak opposed.
Originally pitched about three years ago, the development by the Robert Green Company calls for a five-story Joie de Vivre hotel with a new restaurant, bar and cafe to be built along Hope Street, just a block from the city's downtown transit center. On the opposite side of the street, the developer would construct a four-story office complex, about 52,000 square feet in total.
As part of the negotiations, the developer promised to build a new underground garage that will provide 385 spaces, 225 of which will be available to the public. City staff pointed out this would be an increase of 76 spaces over the two parking lots currently in use.
Speaking for his company, Robert Green Jr. described the new project as an attractive destination that would "activate" properties not being used to their full potential.
"We developed a project that we think the city will be proud of," he said. "We tried our best to create a classic design, something that will reflect the different features of downtown Mountain View but also something sophisticated."
For its supporters on the City Council, it was a win-win deal -- the downtown area will get more free parking while the city gets a lucrative new source of revenue. Early on, the city would receive about $330,000 in rent and taxes each year, but that amount is expected to steadily increase. Within 30 years, the city is expected to receive about $6.8 million annually. All told, over the 55-year lifespan of the deal, city officials estimated the city would net about $292 million.
Yet parking remained a sticking point for city officials as they considered the plan. Members of the downtown preservationist group Livable Mountain View spoke out against the development, alleging it was downplaying its parking needs. A study assessing the parking needs was released only a few hours before the meeting. Speaking for the group, Mary Hodder estimated the hotel and offices would actually need 214 additional spaces to avoid spilling over into the public lots.
"We don't have the transit infrastructure to support the kinds of parking estimates that we're making," she said. "We don't want to see hotel staff or office workers utilizing those public spaces, and we don't see what will happen if that does occur."
Some of those concerns were taken up by Abe-Koga, who implied the compromise wasn't actually as good as it seemed. The deal includes an agreement for the city to forgo a portion of the hotel (transient occupancy) tax to subsidize the public parking. Eventually, the hotel will pay the full amount. Abe-Koga pressed the city's finance staff to explain how much money the city would forego in taxes to make the project work. The answer: $7.8 million.
"That's over $100,000 a parking space -- I've never heard of anything like this amount," she said. "We're being asked for quite a large subsidy ... but there's other hotels who aren't asking for this."
Abe-Koga and Matichak said they could not support the project, in part because it was an office project that would worsen the city's jobs-housing imbalance.
Yes, it would have been nice to build housing instead of offices, agreed Mayor Lenny Siegel, but he said the project was still worthwhile. He was skeptical the hotel and office would create the parking nightmare that opponents were envisioning. He pointed out the project was situated right next to the transit center. Caltrain and ride-sharing services should reduce the parking demands of the project, he said.
"An enormous amount of time and energy has been spent working out these details," he said. "I think we've done a pretty good job addressing these issues."
The project is expected to be completed in late 2021, according to the Robert Green Company.