New Housing Development for UC Berkeley…

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A decade after UC Berkeley shut down its Laguna Street campus in San Francisco, the site will finally find new life as a housing development.

Wood Partners has started demolition of the non-historic structures on the 5.8-acre development at 55 Laguna St., a $150 million project that will total 330 market-rate rental apartments. The site will eventually include a 110-unit affordable senior development by Mercy Housing and OpenHouse, but that project is not fully financed and is probably about a year away from construction.

Wood Partners Director of Development Brian Pianca said that the first phase would consist both of the demolition and the rehabilitation of the two historic buildings, Woods Hall and the Woods Hall Annex, that the group is responsible for restoring. The renovation of a third historic building, Richardson Hall, will be part of the Mercy/Open House project. Build Group is the contractor.

The Laguna campus opened in 1920 as a property of San Francisco State University. The campus was purchased by UC Berkeley Extension in 1958. The campus was shut down in 2003 and developer AF Evans spent five years working on entitling it, but eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Wood Partners took it over in 2010 and hired BAR Architects to redesign the project. With the recession in full swing, Wood Partners worked to cut the cost of the project by about 10 percent, said Pianca.

“The evaluation from Wood Partners, and we agreed, was that the site plan was a little difficult from a construction standpoint; that the buildings didn’t follow the topography in a way that was going to be as affordable as they wanted it to be,” said Chris Haegglund, a principal with BAR Architects. “They were willing to take a step back in entitlements and redesign the site plan. So we did that. We ran the buildings parallel to the grade instead of perpendicular to the grade.”

Wood Partners and BAR also worked to reduce the amount of automobile traffic going through the site. While Waller Street originally bisected the property, BAR designed the site plan to make it a pedestrian green space called Waller Park. Other public spaces will include a mews called Palm Lane, a community garden, and the historic 10,000-square-foot Woods Hall Annex, which will likely be an arts space. Wood Partners is in discussions with a neighborhood nonprofit that would program the arts space.

Wood Partners will build the entire market-rate project at once, rather than phasing it. He said the decision not to spread out the risk and build in phases was driven by both by belief in the strength of the market as well as design considerations. “If you look at amenities like Waller Park and the Woods Hall Annex, they are requirements of a single project, not two separate projects,” he said.

The developer plans to start leasing units in 2015. The development will have a gym, club room and bike shop.

“I think what really differentiates us is the amount of open space on our site,” Pianca said. “So many others are typical urban density projects, which are great, but it’s rare to have so much open space within an urban project. We have community gardens and courtyards and parks mixing in with the historic structures and new buildings.”

Haegglund said the project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for BAR.

“It’s not many times you have a chance to work on a site of this size and importance interwoven into the fabric of a neighborhood like Hayes Valley,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge improvement to the neighborhood. It preserves historic buildings, gets rid of a lot of surface parking lots and introduces this Waller Street park that right now is a complete barrier to the neighborhood.”

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