High-tech hub proposed for Palo Alto's Varsity Theatre

Historic building to house new cafe, 'co-working space' under latest proposal for 456 University Ave.

Plans for downtown's historic Varsity Theatre took another turn this week when building owner Chop Keenan submitted a proposal to turn the University Avenue landmark into a cafe and co-working space for various high-tech companies.

New plans submitted by Keenan list as the project applicant the high-tech giant SAP, which operates a Palo Alto campus on Hillview Avenue. The plans state that HANAhaus, as the new space will be called, "will combine aspects of a public cafe, a co-working space and a public forum." It will include an assembly space for more than 100 seats and while it will be "open to all," it will "cater specifically to the needs of the entrepreneurial community with a focus on innovation in technology and software applications."

The application brands the new space as a "living laboratory that will explore innovations in the future of work, where dramatic changes in workplace technology, social demographics, cultural trends and globalization are fundamentally changing the meaning, manner and the places in which people work, play, create, connect and relax."

The 1927 building on University and Kipling Street most recently housed Borders Books, which moved in in 1994 and left in 2011 after Borders declared bankruptcy. Last year, Keenan proposed to turn the building into an accelerator for Samsung.

The project still includes a major renovation of the historic building and a modification of the first-floor space for creation of a new cafe, a public gathering space and meeting rooms, new exterior doors and windows, according to the submitted plans. The proposal includes no additions to the existing floor area.


Posted by Vanessa Warheit, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:15 am

I *really* hope that the City will make sure the new development includes as much public access to the New Varsity as possible. I grew up in Palo Alto and this building was a big part of my experience - it is a true landmark, and should remain open to the public for future generations.

Has anyone approached the Hub - Web Link - to see if they'd be interested in developing it? Heavens knows Palo Alto needs more co-working spaces (for small independent entrepreneurs of all sorts - not just software!)

Posted by Look out!, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

This gives me the creeps. More corporate money-making changes to our lives. Maybe you think Facebook improved our lives. I dont.
"living laboratory that will explore innovations in the future of work, where dramatic changes in workplace technology, social demographics, cultural trends and globalization are fundamentally changing the meaning, manner and the places in which people work, play, create, connect and relax."

And what about parking?

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

Yet another reason for people NOT to go and shop downtown.

Yet another commercial development that will need all-day parking that will deter shopping /dining downtown.

Yet another reason for PA to raise utility rates to supplement declining sales tax revenues.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

So .. does Mr. Keenan have a business plan that promises his company a handsome profit for this venture? As reported in the article--how he plans to make money is not exactly clear.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:47 am

I think this is a great idea! Opening the beautiful building and courtyard to the public and using a historic resource in a contemporary way while preserving the beauty of the building. This building is a Palo Alto treasure and should be used.

Posted by Borders, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:50 am

It's too bad this wasn't done to the old Borders store, instead of it just sitting there, abandoned looking, with its old looking security gate giving the area a run down look.

Posted by Carol Gilbert, a resident of University South
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:54 am

For a change, this sounds like a good idea. It has looked terrible since Borders left. Would have preferred Borders, but that's not my call.

Posted by Anon , a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:13 am

Hmmmm…..sounds like a sneaky attempt to avoid ground floor retail requirement at this location……

And It will contribute to the parking deficit that is already such a HUGE issue in downtown residential neighborhoods.

If the tenant is not a retail operator it is not a retail use and should not be allowed. SAP is a "high tech Giant" according to the article.

the story says: -- it will be "open to all," it will "cater specifically to the needs of the entrepreneurial community with a focus on innovation in technology and software applications."---

Really, me and my friends are going to sit and sip our lattes while SAP discusses its latest software
innovations……. LOL!

Posted by emily renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:22 am

Wasn't there a PC tradeoff given for this building in exchange for preserving its historic character?? I hope that will not be conveniently forgotten in all this fol-de-rol.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

@anon - I don't drink lattes, but I would love to have coffee in that courtyard! And it makes sense to cater to the tech industry, our downtown is more of an office park with restaurants than a downtown with shopping...

Posted by Distressed , a resident of Professorville
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

Why does the City not simply rename Downtown Palo Alto, "Palo Alto Office Park", and be done with any downtown at all. One after another building use is becoming office use. What was once a lovely downtown for people's quality of living is becoming faceless facades. Is California Avenue next? It becomes more and more obvious by the week that the city has runaway development without a single consideration of the impact on the citizens who live, shop, do business here,and visit here. Then are we going to hear more about a jobs/housing imbalance? No need to mention the huge lack of parking. And the traffic gridlocks. Is this progress? Do we need this? It is extremely reckless planning.

Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:15 pm

A decade or more ago Keenan converted the Varsity theater into a Borders bookstore on the brink of the collapse of the brick and mortar bookstore business, and now the Varsity sits empty and abandoned.

Now Keenan wants to convert the Varsity into a "cafe and co-working space". Once again Keenan is late to the game with a proposal to follow in the tracks of another pop-trend business concept on the brink of over-subscription.

The major PA real-estate developers became very wealthy by hitching their wagons to the real-estate mega-trend. We should not expect new ideas, vision, or leadership from these men.

Posted by Don, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

The Varsity space is not viable for large scale retail (not if the store needs to stay in the black).

Some US cities have had sucess carving up spaces like this into, say, food kiosks. A successful example is the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, MN: Web Link I'd love to see something like this in downtown Palo Alto, but it wouldn't work here - astronomical rents, lack of parking. It's too bad.

It brings to mind the old Liddicoats food mall, which was a block from the Varsity Theater building. It was open for 16 years, until 1994, then became the Z Gallerie, then the Apple Store. That progression tells the story, doesn't it?

Liddicoats was a collection of food vendors, including the fabulous Sako's [her butterfly trout with sauteed potatoes was incredible] and the very first Mrs. Fields Cookies.

Web Link

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Posted by Sam, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm

anon wrote: I don't drink lattes, but I would love to have coffee in that courtyard!

There's pretty good chance the cafe will have coffee on the menu. Pretty, pretty good.

Posted by randy albin, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

these are historical locales. think up some use that would make sense for this. just preserve the building and then go from there. yay

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

If you value the current structure, this is a good plan, and infinitely better than it sitting vacant for another decade. Unless you tear it down, you aren't going to get retail. And if you let the city and developers tear it down, we'll end up with something far far worse. I frustrated with the traffic as well, but empty boarded up buildings are even worse.

Posted by Longtime Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

What a shame. Another downtown building turning into an office building. I hope Chop Keenan [portion removed] is denied this new use of the building. Yes, Palo Alto is turning into nothing more than an office park. The only people who go downtown are young [portion removed] office workers. They don't live here. Another reason to avoid my formerly beloved downtown.

Posted by Rachel, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I think it sounds like a great idea, and I'm usually not in favor of new large developments downtown. It may be a good opportunity to see if the historic elements can be maintained and can merge well with the new techy Palo Alto business interests. I hope that Chop Keenan is wealthy enough by now that this is his chance to give back to the community with an interesting and hopefully more community friendly project. Yes, he will likely make some money, but hopefully he still has some interest in retaining of what Palo Alto was 25 years ago. Fingers crossed!

Posted by Excited Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I'm not sure why people are worried about a place like this opening on University Avenue. Unlike other "corporate" type of buildings, this place is open to the public and anyone can access it. It doesn't sound like a place for companies but a space for citizens of Palo Alto and the like to gather. This place has been closed for about 3 years now and it's time someone took it over to build something cool for all of us to use. Sounds like a new cafe environment that I'd love to check out when it opens!

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm

"Hanahaus" looks like an "accelerator" for SAP, the German software
company. HANA is short for High performance ANalytic Appliance which is
their new database management system. So they are getting a nice big
advertising sign on University Ave on the iconic Varsity Theatre marquee.
A cafe is thrown in. Who is going to run the cafe?

Posted by deja vu, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Hey everyone, this is the same flavor of proposal as when they converted the old Waterworks site (prime retail spot at the corner of Emerson and Hawthorne). A startup was allowed to move in when they promised a portion would be a "community cafe" for the public to use. How'd that work out? Retail gone, no cafe, precedent set for desks and offices, landlord allowed to raise rent so retailer can't survive in that location, landlord subsequently complains to city he needs a zoning exception since "retailers can't make it" at that location.

Beware this pattern. Yet another loss for downtown. Ground-floor retail zoning should be protected and enforced; landlords should be compelled to charge reasonable retail-friendly pricing on the ground floor.

In a particularly sly move, the city council at one point designated the Emerson Street corridor as "protected" for ground-floor retail. This sadly created a loophole to allow the loss of non-Emerson-St ground-floor retail throughout the rest of downtown.

WAKE UP PALO ALTO! RIP the following downtown retail and restaurant space already converted to OFFICE CUBICLES (or under construction):

-Darshana Yoga
-Jungle Copy (two locations)
-University Art
-Mango Cafe and adjacent florist
-Shell Gas Station
-California Yoga Center
-Plan Toys & adjacent modern furniture store & rug store
-House of Bagels (!)
-Fraiche Yogurt's original Emerson St location
-Vacuum repair shop at Florence & Lytton
-Vintage clothing store on Waverley
...and I know I am missing some here...

How about a serious effort going to identify city council members who have facilitated this travesty, and get them voted out?

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I want to know what kind of secret meetings were going on between Staff and Keenan or between Council and Keenan such that City dropped the ball or did not in earnest pursue a list of leads on finding a national-reputation concert promoter -- like at Yoshis, Fillmore, Warfield, Fox Oakland, Great American / Slims, -- despite Jim Keane saying "look into it". To what extent did Chop say "don't look into it" such that staff report says "no theatre viable in downtown". (number #1979 in August, 2011 by Steve Emslie)

The Grand Jury report, of June 6, 2014 says that at the exact same time, fall 2011, staff and Council were meeting with John Arrillaga regarding 27 University (and project....) and this was deemed corrupt.

Is the dealing between Keenan and leadership as corrupt as the dealing between Arrillaga and leadership?

Will it take a Grand Jury to figure this out?

Meanwhile Berkeley now has two non-profit music venues, both precedent for what, with a little more effort and a little less Junkie XL, could work at The Varsity: Freight and Salvage and The University Theatre.

And on this specific plan, WHICH SHOULD BE REJECTED, saying that a large corporation's lunch room is the same thing as a public cafe is like saying that "building envelope" at 261 Hamilton is the same thing as moving the basement to a new upper wing (although, I am switching to a third developer). Look at the spooky surveillance hobbits or whoever they are using as lunch room on High what was Jungle Copy and TalentHaint -- nothing in it for us.

What is Chop Keenan's magic hold and sway over leadership? Is he Saruman the Great?

If it is not corrupt per se it is certainly of a quality that people here will no longer tolerate.

How corrupt is 250 Hamilton? Is the Grand Jury report an isolated event or part of a pattern?

Hilary Gittelman, new planning director, I spoke to on this exact topic this morning and assures me that I am over-reacting and everything is honky-dory. I said there is opportunity to show more definitively going forward that this is so.

Posted by JS, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Chop Keenan COULD find a ground floor retail use/tenant for this building if he so wanted to do so. He chooses NOT to do so or prices his space so dear that retailers can't afford it. There is no need to bend the rules so Chop Keenan can reap office rental rates. Let it stay vacant if he won't lease to a retailer.

Posted by Keenan, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Recently I passed through Santa Barbara on a Thursday night and the Downtown was packed, there was a concert at the Arlington Theatre, an historic Spanish courtyard theatre like the Varsity in Palo Alto. The Arlington is used for film festivals and live performances. It's an important part of the City's cultural scene. It's privately owned by a family run corporation, Metropolitan Theatres, which restored and expanded the theatre in the mid 1970's. The Corwin family gives awards to students
at the Univ of Calif Santa Barbara for screen writing, play writing, dance and music composition and gives benefit concerts at its theatres.

Posted by Eejit, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Palo Alto is a suburb, not a metropolis, nor do we want it to be.

No more business development, pull-eeeeze! It benefits NO one but the developer!

Posted by Ingeborg, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Palo Alto stopped being a suburb a long time ago. It wants to be a shopping destination, the location of big name companies etc. The city benefits plenty from business development. Do it smartly and everyone will be happy.
Blanket bans on business development are unwise and probably illegal.

Posted by Look out!, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

>I'm not sure why people are worried about a place like this opening on University Avenue. Unlike other "corporate" type of buildings, this place is open to the public and anyone can access it.<

In your dreams.
Have you tried to use the open area on the corner of Homer and High? or the corner of Channing and High? or the so called open space in front of Riaci restaurant? The developer makes it architecturally unwelcoming, and the public does not enter.
It's a scam that sounds good for people who haven't seen it done before.

Posted by Marlen, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 4, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Why not just have the city force it to remain abandoned, then there won't be any pressure for more parking, housing, etc.?

Posted by jaa, a resident of University South
on Jul 5, 2014 at 2:02 am

Oh thrill. How exciting. More people staring balefully into rectangles.

Posted by Kay, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2014 at 6:48 am

What a Shame!! Now another unique historical building will be turning into an office. Where is the ambience and charm for residents to go downtown, if it's only a tech worker haven? Hasn't Chop Keenan made enough money off our downtown to give back to the community? How about a music venue, movie theatre, a la Liddicoats, a Stanford Arts/Community venue? Berkeley has not forced out retail, and it is thriving for the families and students that live there. They have a variety of retail, bakeries, clothing stores, bookstores,hardware stores,restaurants, movie theaters that are all thriving. We visit there often, and find lots of stuff for our family to see and do downtown there. Retail businesses are not being forced out by GREEDY landlords. We are a college town, not an office park. Please no more exemptions to developers for office space downtown!! Enough is enough!

Posted by Save our retail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2014 at 7:03 am

I agree with Mark Weiss about the spooky weird lunch room on High Street (between Univ. and Hamilton), used to be Jungle Copy. I tried to go in, was turned away at the door, saw 100+ people sitting over long tables, conversing, eating lunch. This is certainly not a retail establishment, however if you were just walking down the street, you would think it is a retail. Where are my high school children supposed to go downtown? As it turns into an office park,the only reason to go downtown is to eat (but no parking, so go elsewhere). We really could use some creative thinking outside the box for a unique retail experience at the Old Varsity.

Posted by Seelam Reddy, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2014 at 7:14 am

Let us be more innovative!

Can this Theatre be shared between Theatre legacy/history preservation and some part of it become co-working place for start-up!

Can we have both with energy efficient upgrades!

Can we do a study on how this impacts parking situation?


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2014 at 7:40 am

Who is going to run the cafe? The cafe should be the principal use
and listed on the Theatre marquee. To put HANAhaus on the marquee is to
use the historic element of the Theatre for advertising SAP's
latest data base platform and brand the Theatre as a private office,
an accelerator for SAP. This is not a draw for the general public.
What is happening here is symbolic of how far off track this City has

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm

To: DeJa Vu, Mark Weiss, Vanessa, Lookout, Silly, Anon, Distressed, Ahem, Longtime Resident, JS, Resident, Eejit, Lookout, Jaa, Kay, Save Our Retail, Resident:

You all have captured the development elites trying to gain more exemptions to change the authorized use for this facility. Excellent! Thank you for a great list of reasons to band together and shut-down the overdevelopment of office space in Palo Alto. I am with you all.

I fondly recall my days of youth at the Varsity. Here's the deal Chop: you can only use this space for retail under the regs. That's it. No exceptions for you. Second, let us pass an additional ordinance that places this building as a protected historic site whose large interior space can only be converted to a public venue for movies and live theater. If he wants to sell because of that, cool with US! Instead of spending money on the City Hall upgrade, let's make this property of the City of Palo Alto with a charter that this facility can only be used for public purposes including that of a space for art, plays, theaters, movies.

Next: "Ingeborg," NOT SO. We can and will stop this urbanization of Palo Alto. We are not putting "blanket bans" on business development. If a private owner wants to "upgrade" her/his building (that is already zoned for a commercial site); no worries. They can tear it down and build new. Believe me, I'd love to see most of El Camino Real in Palo Alto tore down and start with some fresh buildings that are environmentally responsible and less of the Bomb Shelter mode I was raised in during the Cold War. HOWEVER, they can not build UP - no more exemptions. We do not need more employees/large scale companies in Palo Alto.

The desire of firms to be here (silicon valley prestige address, weather, neighborhoods, schools, and proximity of the high tech triad - venture capitalists, Law Firms, and other Start-ups/Tech firms for labor talent) is understandable. However, not at the price of our QUALITY of life. We long term Palo Altains remember quite clearly we did very well without Steven Jobs and the rest before the tech revolution. And if if all went belly-up tomorrow, we would not only survive, but prosper without dense population and traffic.

So my pro-business development friend, please know there is a set of us here before and after the Silicon Boom - who have kept our heads and still know the value of Palo Alto as Quality over quantity. This will never change.

As noted numerous times before, push the success of Silicon Valley out to other communities and States in this great union. For example in California, we have the East Bay (in particular), East Palo Alto, Stockton, Sacramento, Oakland, RICHMOND, Fresno, East LA - areas that really need the money and neighborhood upgrades! Professionalize those populations as compared to importing even more professionals from primarily Asia. We can not absorb even 1/100th of those 1.3 and 1.2 billion Indians and Chinese - or for that matter any cultural group before helping to employ our Americans, first and other legal residents, too. As also noted before, when I went to Gunn High in the early 70s, 3% Asians. Today, that are the majority at Gunn High by their own website demographics. Please note, I would say the same thing if it was all blue eyed blonds from Finland. We employ Americans first and then push our model out to the world and help employ those populations, too (including regime change from their own youthful populations that have access to the web and see how the rest of the Western World lives!). This is what really scares their elders.

With respect to our own California war-zone communities sited above, Silicon Valley industry can be both a method to accelerate and improve transaction efficiencies AND also an industry to transform a cycle of property (and its attendant dysfunctional family systems) into an educated, home invested, prosperous, and peaceful communities once ripe with the opposite conditions.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Has Metropolitan Theatres Corp which owns the historic Arlington Theatre in
Santa Barbara, among others, been offered the Varsity to buy or manage as a performing arts venue and movie house similar to what is done successfully
in SB?

Posted by Once again, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Once again, all you need to change retail zoning to office is to be rich, a developer, and know the right people. I never thought Palo Alto would become such a city. Some day, our CC will get the message. They pretend to be liberals until elected.

Posted by K, a resident of University South
on Jul 7, 2014 at 5:53 am

Please don't give us that double-speak about "cultural trends and globalization". What the heck does that mean with regards to the proposed use of the building? A "cultural" trend is not a bunch a people sitting around tables talking about software. Writing software is an occupation, a profession and a lot of work. Yes, it can be creative within its context but it is not a "cultural trend".

The Varsity building would have made a wonderful live performing arts center and true social gathering place with its lovely courtyard entrance and original interior design. It was built for that. A little magic could have been brought back to Palo Alto.

Posted by s, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2014 at 8:56 am

Co-working space is always a great idea and produces a lot of great companies. If you are looking for short term commitment in a co-working space, PivotDesk is a great option in finding the right space for you.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

How wonderful that the city owns its very own utility so it can keep raising our rates to subsidize the declining SALES tax revenues.

How wonderful that all the new office space and jobs will require us to increase our density and gridlock to house the new workers while low-jobs areas like Atherton and Los Altos Hills get a free pass.

Has anyone considered the parking for the all-day office workers? Of course, no parking required. They all bike, canoe, fly on their broomsticks. Not to worry, say our fine city planners.

Posted by Wrong priorities, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

Hey, idiots at City Hall: it's a retail space! In a suburb! Who are you to change zoning on a whim? Against the wishes of the majority of residents, whom you are supposed to represent?

Just do the job you guys are supposed to do and stick to the law--you are NOT above the law, nobody is!

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

@Silly -
I might share your concern except for one detail: apparently SALES tax revenues in Palo Alto have been increasing, not declining as you seem to believe. From the 4th quarter summary Web Link:
"In Palo Alto, overall sales and use tax revenue (cash receipts) for the 
fourth quarter ending December  2013  increased  by  approximately  $4.8  million,  or  20.3  percent." So does this change your conclusion at all?

Myself, I like the creativity being shown here by Mr. Keenan, leaving the wonderful courtyard & lobby of this landmark building open to the public while converting the hard-to-rent interiors into spaces for incubating tomorrow's new businesses. It may not work but let's give him and the city credit for trying. If it doesn't work out, the landmark building is still there for whatever the next attempt at commercial viability might be. I'm hoping that this idea is a winner and The Varsity becomes the "in place" to work.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:03 am

The soul of this community is in the intensive care unit and the prognosis is not promising. Just walk down the streets and see all the young IT professionals ambling along checking their e-mail, making ZERO eye contact. Appalling. Listen to their conversations in the restaurants and you hear lots of talk of deals and of girls and none of any richness, character, ethics, or the arts. And the "Chop" Keenans of Palo Alto and the world want to accelerate this race to human oblivion, this invasion of the spirit snatchers, by turning even more of Palo Alto over to more high-tech zombies. Sickening.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

I might change my conclusions if I knew exactly what "use" taxes are and what proportion they represent. Details please.

I still doubt that will stop them from raising our utility rates to cover their incessant mailings.

Posted by Distressed, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

I live in Menlo Park and have worked near California Avenue in Palo Alto. It think it is an outrage that once again money rules (nothing new). I have seen California Ave. inundated with the new workers -- young computer nerds who seem to be taking over the streets and more. Parking continues to be a nightmare and will get worse it seems.

My concern about this lovely historic structure, The Varsity, is that the beauty will be lost while replacing it with more
high tech folks and their screens, etc. The human values that Palo Alto originally embodied seem to be getting lost with more tech companies and big biz taking over. How tragic that parking is limiting my time downtown in lovely Palo Alto.

Where are our representatives to represent our values and not just the money, venture capitalists?

I truly hope The Varsity will be saved!

Posted by Robert, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm

@Distressed: our PA City Council members are actually furthering, not fighting, the trends you lamented. Their visions of the Palo Alto of the future are perfectly congruent with the interests of the Chop Keenans of the world. The cycle is vicious: it now takes significant money to run for a position on the City Council, and one gets that money either by being independently wealthy or by getting rich IT or development people to donate to you because you convince them you will serve their interests if elected. As you said, money rules in Palo Alto, more than ever.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm

@ Silly - I enjoy a good rant...when it is based upon fact.

electric rates last revised 7/1/2009
gas rates last revised 1/1/2013
water 7/1/2013
sewer 7/1/2012
storm drains 7/1/2013
trash 7/1/2012

Only two rates raised in the last year. 3 in the last 18 months. Also consider that the water rates are driven by San Francisco, as that is PA's water source.

And check out PG&E and all of the independent services that other cities (such as Menlo Park) have to pay. Far more than CPAU.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Dear Dad, you're right about no increase in 2014 however, let's look at the recent past increases, shall we?

7% plus 15% plus 20% in the 3 -- THREE -- previous years = 42%, not counting compounding.

Web Link

The City Council Finance Committee voted last week to approve a recommendation from Utilities Department staff to raise water rates by 7 percent in July, a change that would add about $5.19 to the average residential monthly bill. Like in years past, the recommendation is driven by two factors: the increasing cost of buying water from the city's supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and various capital projects related to the water system.

The rate increase is less dramatic than what staff had previously projected. Last year, the Utilities Department estimated that it would have to raise rates by 15 percent in the fiscal year 2014, which begins on July 1, to accommodate rising wholesale and capital costs. Each of these costs increased by less than expected.

But the latest rate adjustment is far from the end of the story for local ratepayers, who saw their rates go up by 15 percent last year and by 20 percent the year before. More 7 percent increases are on the horizon for each of the next three years, according to a staff report. This year, the 7 percent increase will add about $2.4 million in revenues.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

@ Silly -
The link I included in my first post defined "Use Tax" and lots of other details.
Read before you complain.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 1:24 pm

We are in a cycle of overbuilding for office, increased congestion and more signs and paint all over the streets. The other morning when I was returning to Palo Alto from Mountain View and drove through Palo Alto I almost threw up.

As far as the Varsity, the emphasis needs to be on the cafe. Is it going to be a coffee bar, three cannisters of coffee on the counter with a few stale cookies? Don't turn this into a farce.The former Borders had a coffee bar. The focal point here needs to be the cafe. Who is in mind to run this cafe? What is the scale of it? Who is going to do the interior design?

Posted by jaa, a resident of University South
on Jul 7, 2014 at 5:17 pm

I live downtown in a building that was built in the 1920's, once covered in ivy with a lovely garden on the second floor. They completely demolished the first floor causing much distress, it became construction hell for almost two years to be honest,living through asbestos removal, sandblasting, concrete wall hammers, jack hammers, to say the very least. Attending meetings at City Hall was futile. They completely remodeled the first floor forcing all the retail tenants out, including installing new plumbing, electrical capacity, heating and air conditioning, all the bells and whistles for that space only which now coddles, you guessed it, some absurdly rich tech firm whatever. Nothing has changed for the good tenants who have homes here except rents will rise. I had the most beautiful view of trees and sky across the street and another lovely historical building. Today I wake up and find blaring through my window huge obnoxious neon signs for all that "high powered" traffic that now comes barreling through town. Now I can't wait to retire and get out of this place. Who is going to be able to afford to live here anyway?

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 9:17 am

I've watched local leadership fail the rank-and-file at least twice on this issue, in 1995, when 5,000 citizens signed a petition and held numerous meetings to try to Save the Varsity, and council voted (including by the way, Liz Kniss) to let Chop Keenan have a variance to convert the theatre to retail, and then in 2011 when council and staff half-heartedly sniffed around for something other than what may be inevitable: more office space.

Saying that the large software maker's lunchroom idea fits the spirit of the law is like what we saw recently staff trying hard to define "building envelope" so as to let another of their favorite developers upzone at 261 Hamilton: it took a lot of pushback to prevent that.

I am not sure the value of fighting here -- I think the values at stake at Buena Vista mobile park are more significant - people losing their homes, to support landlord greed, with our consent -- but it is agendized for ARB and HRB if people want to tune in and have their say.

I spoke to one of the landlord's consulting architects and he confirmed that the structure of the building itself has been preserved if We the People can work with the landlord to find a cultural use. I also have two white-papers written by Gary Meyer, the founder of Landmark Cinema chain, and Chops' former tenant at 456, on converting theatre to cultural centers, as enacted in Berkeley (The University Theatre) and Vallejo (The Empress), that I am forwarding to staff.

I hold hope, albeit slim, that 456 University the historic and beloved Varsity Theatre, will come on line again. It's an interesting litmus test on governance and our varying ideas of "property" and "community".

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 10:35 am

@ Steve - Don't be overconfident about sales tax trends and their origins. FY2014 had a windfall (probably from VMWare) that won't repeat.

From the 2015 Proposed Operating Budget p32 Web Link

Sales tax revenues are projected at $26.0 million in Fiscal Year 2015 which is $2.1 million or 8.9 percent above the Fis-
cal Year 2014 Adopted Budget level. Actual revenues from this source will perform well in Fiscal Year 2014 primarily
due to unexpectedly high receipts from a single vendor. The Fiscal Year 2015 Proposed Budget assumes that the sales
tax model for this vendor will change and result in lower revenues.
After controlling for the new revenue discussed above, there are several concerns to note in the sales tax picture. As in
the past, the electronics equipment segment has shown considerable volatility. In Fiscal Year 2014, one firm's sales tax
receipts have fallen considerably below those in Fiscal Year 2013. Additionally, consumers continue to shift their pur-
chases from brick and mortar stores to online retailers.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2014 at 10:49 am

I've changed my stance on this and am going to take Chop Keenan at his word that this hanahous is going to "rock" and that people like me, who has produced more than 200 concerts in Palo Alto, the bulk of which included national and internationally known acts, will be able to go up to the new tenant and work out a deal to bring great music to 456 Uni, the historic and beloved Varsity building, just as if staff and leadership had done as I suggested in 2011 and find a known presenter to take over the site as a music venue.

So it is not necessary, fellow citizens, to pack the ARB and HRB meetings and challenge this.

I also, as a hedge, checked with Brian Judd the historic architectural consultant to verify that yes the theatre engineering is still preserved underneath a false floor such that, if hanahous doesn't work out and Chop someday sees the light, it can be, as demanded by code, reverted to theatre use.

But for now Chop Keenan is putting his reputation on the line and I am going to give him benefit of the doubt.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Deja vu, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

Ah, Mr. Keenan. We meet again.

Let me just say I'm a really big fan. Not.

You have this bad habit of letting your New Varsity property stand empty, deteriorate and become a thorn in the side of PA citizens. Swift.

Like the first time you let the theater look like an abandoned property so that many people (especially city hall) jumped at the idea of a Borders going in.

And all along you were waiting for the highest bidder. Sa-weet.

Here we go again. Vacant property becomes an incubator. How exciting to know that I'll be able to get a cup of coffee and rub elbows with masters of the universe. Somebody pinch me.

Not sure what HANAhaus stands for. Will I be able to buy sushi and a strudel? Love the "haus" part. Very cool and rich with meaning. "GREED AND PROFIT UBER ALLES."

Posted by Call an Office use an Office use, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm

The Varsity Theater's zoning does not allow office uses on the ground floor. So this appears to be an attempt to skirt the zoning rules and locate office on the ground floor which the article and presumably the architect/developer is calling a "personal service" which is a permitted use on the ground floor.

The current proposal is a cafe area and office spaces on the ground floor, but instead of calling it office it is being called "personal service" to get around the ground floor office use restriction. Does anybody else see a problem with this?

Converting ground floor retail and nonoffice uses to office uses?

From Article:

The enterprise will combine a cafe – to be run by Blue Bottle Coffee – with "personal services available for a fee," including individual and group work desks, power and wireless connections, group brainstorming space, private phone rooms, discussion rooms and teleconferencing rooms.

Posted by Deja vu, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2014 at 10:20 pm

A Tale of Two University Avenues. Palo Alto and Stanford lose. Berkeley and Cal win.

Web Link

Posted by Marianne, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2014 at 9:56 am

I used to work for a very large consulting company across the US, and this was the precise structure for what we called Office Hoteling. It means that you rent office space per day or per hour, while you were in town. The fact that there is a cafe/restaurant selling stuff to the public does not change the nature of the business. It is technically office use, not retail use.

How can the City in it's right ming allowing this?!

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