It's a small lot -- the property at 1400 El Camino Real in Menlo Park is about half an acre -- but big enough for a 63-room, four-story hotel with underground parking, according to a local developer.
The Portola Valley-based Pollock Financial Group wants to turn the former Shell gas station site at Glenwood Avenue, which now has a scattering of shrubs and a whole bunch of dirt, into a boutique hotel on the outskirts of downtown Menlo Park.
The plan is to include a restaurant, bar and pool. The underground garage would accommodate an estimated 75 cars using "stack technology" as a valet parks one car, a hydraulic lift carries it up to allow a second car to be parked underneath.
"In this location, what made the most sense as a win-win for the city, for us and the public is a hotel," said Jeff Pollock, after commissioning an analysis by PFK Consultants. The company typically builds medical offices and commercial buildings.
The site is about a block north of 1300 El Camino, where Greenheart Land Company is proposing to build a 420,000-square-foot complex of offices, residential units and retail.
The Pollock Financial Group has been looking for the right location for a boutique hotel since 2006, Mr. Pollock said. With an estimated budget of $31.5 million for the entire project, the company is in the final stages of purchasing the property. If the proposal proceeds smoothly through the city's planning process, he said, he hopes to start construction in early 2016 and finish within 12 to 14 months.
The company estimates the 33,750-square-foot hotel would deliver $8.5 million in transient occupancy tax revenue to the city of Menlo Park over the course of 10 years, plus revenue from property and sales taxes.
The company is aiming at the bonus level of density allowed under the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, which means the city has the opportunity to negotiate public benefits in exchange for allowing the construction of a hotel that would be larger than allowed under the base-level development rules. One such benefit Mr. Pollock said the company is willing to provide is an improved right-hand turn lane from Glenwood Avenue onto El Camino Real. Mr. Pollock said he considers revenue from the hotel tax a public benefit as well.
"The (transient occupancy tax) won't come in unless there's a hotel built," said Mr. Pollock. "If we cannot work creatively with the city, we may not be able to build the hotel. No one else has come forward with a hotel at that site. While we would like to do it, we have to come to some understanding with the city as to how we achieve it."
He mentioned the benefits the company sees for Menlo Park: increased vibrancy for downtown, improving the vacant site, and a chance to evaluate how well the stacked parking might work in other parts of the city. Plus, Menlo Park gets an attractive building that's easier on the eyes than a half-acre of dirt.
The hotel will match "LEED silver" levels of green design elements, he said.
The design of the hotel remains a work in progress. The company is working with architect Mark Hornberger of Hornberger + Worstell. His portfolio includes W Hotel in San Francisco and the Ritz-Carlton Highlands in Lake Tahoe.
Project representatives are taking a trip to Napa soon "to look at some examples of successful boutique hotels," Mr. Pollock said. "At the risk of comparing ourselves to our neighbors, we like a lot of the design elements of the Epiphany (hotel) in Palo Alto."
Although hotels are a departure from its norm, the Pollock Financial Group, which includes Jim Pollock and Lincoln Westcott, has completed other projects in Menlo Park, such as the office building at 312 Middlefield Road. The company has also sunk roots into the community, founding "Heart of Silicon Valley" in 2002 to raise money for charities by staging concerts in small venues.
The council is expected to hold a study session to talk about the proposed hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 24.
The hotel "is an interesting opportunity for Menlo Park and I am anxious to hear the feedback from the City Council," said Jim Cogan, the city's economic development manager. "If nothing else, it illustrates how the guidelines in the specific plan are encouraging the development community to bring forward projects that can enhance vibrancy and provide tax revenue."
Mayor Cat Carlton also sounded intrigued. "I'm delighted to hear of plans for another boutique hotel on El Camino Real. Both increased property tax for the site and increased transient occupancy tax is a good thing for the financial stability of the city," she said.