The Draper University of Heroes received tentative approval from the San Mateo Planning Commission Tuesday night but not after it agreed to several conditions such as having more retail presence in the former Collective Antiques building downtown.
The marathon meeting lasted nearly six hours as members of the public had the chance to decry some of the shortcomings they see in the proposal such as parking and making sure the school for entrepreneurs fits in with the retail character of downtown.
The university, founded by venture capitalist Tim Draper, will now seek final approval from the City Council at its Feb. 4 meeting.
Draper has already mostly converted the former Benjamin Franklin Hotel on Third Avenue into dorms for its students and is in the process of designing the Collective Entrepreneurs Club, which will be a major component of the three-building campus and open to the public on a membership basis. The former Bank of Wachovia building on Fourth Avenue will also house administrative offices and a campus bookstore if the project gets council approval.
The university held a pilot program over the summer and hopes to host its next class of students starting in April for an eight-week session. About 30 people attending the meeting wore T-shirts that read "I support Draper University.”
One wearing a shirt was Alicia Petrakis, co-owner and chef at Astaria, a restaurant that is housed in the old hotel.
Astaria has been given a new lease by Draper and will provide breakfast for its students.
The Benjamin Franklin has languished for years, Petrakis told the commission, and would have been a hotel by now if it were meant to be.
The university could help boost business for the Third Avenue corridor at El Camino Real, Petrakis said.
While commissioners generally approved plans for the hotel and former bank, much of the discussion centered on the iconic Collective building since it will be converted from retail uses to more of an office or school setting.
Ken Wilson, the university’s head of development, showed the commission new renderings for the Collective building that featured two pop-up retail sites but commissioners said it was not enough.
Wilson then told the commission the university could accommodate more retail uses in the building as the discussion next turned to how to make the Collective building a visually engaging, active storefront to fit in with the character of other downtown businesses.
The city recently relaxed its retail requirements for downtown frontages and Draper is seeking an exemption from some of those requirements to accommodate a school campus.
When Draper won the hotel for $6 million in a Dutch auction two years ago he had no idea what his plans would be for the building, he told the commission Tuesday night.
"It was my son’s idea,” Draper said.
The trial period worked well over summer, he said.
"The pilot worked well. The students lit the place up,” Draper said. "We love San Mateo and we hope it loves us.”
One of the university’s first students, Surbhi Sarna, has already secured $2.4 million in venture capital funding after winning the business pitch competition at the end of the pilot. Sarna founded nVision, an early-stage, venture-backed medical device company dedicated to building a portfolio of proprietary technologies to fill the void in female health-related innovation.
She told her story to the commission last night to highlight the benefits the school will have on the region.
While parking has dominated much of the discussion leading to now, the university has pledged that none of its students will be allowed to bring cars to the campus.
About 180 students at a time are expected to attend the university.
The volume of students worries some in the Baywood neighborhood who fear their valuable residential parking will be taken by students who cannot find parking downtown.
"It is unrealistic to assume students will not have cars,” Shirley Melincoe told the commission Tuesday night.
She suggested the university find dedicated parking downtown such as the former Kinko’s site on Fifth Avenue and Claremont Street.
The university will become a catalyst for economic development and growth in San Mateo, the university’s Chief Operating Officer Carol Lo said.
Plans include turning the old antiques building on into the Collective Entrepreneurs Club, which will be a flexible co-working space that offers collaborative peer-to-peer workspaces for entrepreneurs on daily, weekly, monthly and annual membership terms.
The Collective will also feature retail pop-up stores that can be rented short term and a large multi-purpose event space that can be rented out on evenings and weekends for events such as art shows, jazz concerts, corporate events and meetings when not in use by staff or students with the Draper University of Heroes located at the former Benjamin Franklin Hotel at 44 E. Third Ave.
The Benjamin Franklin sign on the top of the hotel is proposed to be painted over although some of the commissioners want to see it stay.
Draper is the founder of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and funded Hotmail, Skype and Baidu in their infancies.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.