Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Venture capitalist Tim Draper talks with San Mateo Councilman Jack Matthews, right, last night after the council approved his university for entrepreneurs downtown.
The Draper University of Heroes was welcomed with mostly open arms by the San Mateo City Council last night as it approved permits that will transform the former Benjamin Franklin Hotel downtown into an innovative school for young entrepreneurs.
After the council voted 4-1 to approve the project, high-fives were exchanged and hands were shaken as venture capitalist Tim Draper left City Hall with a big smile on his face.
The nearly four-hour public hearing ended after university officials agreed to double its contribution to downtown's transportation management plan and to keep the historic terrazzo-tiled floor in the hotel's entryway intact.
"I have to start this school. It's too exciting. I sure hope you guys let me do this in San Mateo,” Draper said before the council vote.
He has pledged $1 million to improvements to the courtyard that connects the Ben Frank to Third and Fourth avenues, where the old Wachovia Bank building sits, which also comprises the university's campus along with the former Collective Antiques building on Third Avenue.
Officials with the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce gave the project a ringing endorsement last night and students in the university's summer pilot program spoke of their successes before the council made its vote.
The university and its students will be the "gift that keeps on giving,” said Alan Talansky, with the chamber.
Chip Forsythe participated in the summer pilot program and is now preparing to set up his Naked Rebel Winery in San Mateo after already hiring 20 people.
"The pilot program changed my life,” Forsythe said. "The idea is now a fully functioning company.”
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. She told her story to the City Council last night to highlight the benefits the school will have on the region.
Leading up to last night's vote, many expressed concern about losing retail in downtown and Deputy Mayor Robert Ross pointed out that the city will lose out on the potential for any future hotel and sales tax opportunities from the three buildings.
Councilman Brandt Grotte, who voted against the project, wanted to see more retail uses in the plans for the Collective building but university officials said that idea does not fit in with the school's educational goals.
Plans include turning the old antiques building 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 on a short-term basis 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.
The pop-up retail idea could be a big draw to the area, Councilman Jack Matthews said.
"This project will revitalize Third Avenue and could have a multiplier effect,” Matthews said.
Draper is the founder of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and funded Hotmail, Skype and Baidu in their infancies.
The Benjamin Franklin name on the top of the building will remain but likely be shrouded by new Draper University signage.
Draper bought the Collective Antiques building last year from the Musich family and won the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in a Dutch auction in 2011 for about $6 million. He already owned the old Wachovia Bank property before setting his sights on opening a school.
The university will be housed at the hotel at 36-44 E. Third Ave., the Collective Antiques building at 51-65 E. Third Ave., and the old Wachovia bank building at 37 E. Fourth Ave.
The school plans to have four 10-week sessions that coordinate with the Stanford University quarterly system.
It expects to board about 150 students, aged 21 to 24, at the hotel with a condition that the students leave their cars at home.
At the end of the session, students will have the opportunity to pitch for funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
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