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News - July 31, 2019

Facebook hotel plan moves forward with more rooms proposed

by Kate Bradshaw

Two and a half years after it was approved, in concept, by the Menlo Park City Council, Facebook is moving ahead with its plans to build a new hotel at the corner of Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway.

Facebook has contracted with citizenM, a Netherlands-based hotel chain, for the hotel project, and last night (July 22), citizenM representatives argued their case before the Planning Commission for why they should be permitted to build 40 additional rooms beyond the 200 already approved, decrease the number of parking spaces to 120 parking spaces from 245, and move forward with the proposed modular architecture.

The proposed hotel would be five stories tall and about 91,000 square feet, about half of the square footage of the 174,800-square-foot hotel originally proposed, according to a staff report. The hotel would also contain a restaurant.

According to Ernest Lee, a member of the citizenM development team, the hotel chain focuses on high-quality designs at an "accessible price point." Rooms run small while shared amenity spaces are more spacious, he said.

The group plans to feature art prominently at the hotel, as well as offer extensive outdoor landscaping.

The 12-year-old company is currently developing hotels in Seattle and downtown Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, and operates hotels in London and Amsterdam, among other cities. It just opened its 18th hotel worldwide, Lee said.

Part of the reason for the request for additional rooms has to do with demand. Currently, local employers generate demand for about 400 to 450 hotel rooms a night on a daily basis, he said.

In 2016, the City Council approved a 200-room hotel on Facebook property as part of the company's West Campus Expansion development agreement.

The citizenM representatives noted that they're working with Facebook to develop a shared parking agreement, with plans to use a nearby Facebook parking structure.

Commissioner Henry Riggs expressed skepticism that the parking demand of the hotel could be met by sharing some spots with another nearby parking area. People traveling to visit the Bay Area often want cars to drive to visit the coast or the East Bay, and Facebook's parking lots are often full, he noted.

Commissioner Katherine Strehl said she liked that the updated proposal contains only about half of the square footage previously approved.

One "bummer" of the project, in the words of commission Chair Andrew Barnes, is that the new onsite wastewater system at Facebook being used to recycle black water for toilets and irrigation will be maxed out at the company's other new buildings and won't have capacity to work at the hotel, according to Fergus O'Shea, director of campus development at Facebook.

When it comes to figuring what kind of art to include, Commissioner Michele Tate recommended that the developer conduct public outreach with nearby residents. She also urged it to focus on hiring locals as staff.

While approval of the first 200 rooms of the hotel was covered under the previous development agreement the city worked out with Facebook, the addition of 40 new rooms, as well as the proposed parking reduction, will eventually have to be approved by the City Council to proceed.

Those 40 rooms will also be counted toward the cap created in the ConnectMenlo General Plan update of 400 new total hotel rooms on the city's Bay side, according to Kyle Perata, acting principal planner with the city.

The Planning Commission's discussion about the hotel was during a study session, so the commission did not take a vote. The matter will be brought back to the commission at a later date for it to make a formal recommendation to the council in support or opposition to the proposal, according to staff.