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on Jun 12, 2013
I love the sound of what they are planning for the ground floor and courtyard area. I loved sitting there to enjoy a coffee when it was Borders and hope that it will have the same charm and atmosphere with Samsung. Sounds like a win/win to me.
I am not a fan of the plastic, carbon copy, coffee shops where drinking coffee from a paper cup to go is the norm. I prefer the leisurely coffee from a proper cup with something simple to eat from a real plate, using a real fork. Are those days going completely?
Only one architect objected to the fake tree? What was the outcome?
I still wish it could be a movie house, restaurant, and music place... like it was before borders.
>>>> "Keenan had intended to revert the building to office use." <<<<
This implies that it already had been used as office space. Wrong? I thought just theater (R.I.P.) and chain bookstore (r.i.p.).
This is great news! Looking forward to going downtown PA again, and enjoying this new destination!
How very sad that The Varsity has gone corporate. But then, who could expect t better from Chop Keenan.
we need a real (not movie) teather space in downtown
Great - I can now have my Bar Mitzvah in a Samsung store. Excellent.
Forget about 27 University Ave--the Varsity should have been the new home of Theatreworks, providing Keenan a chance to give Palo Alto a true public benefit.
It is well known that Chop Keenan has never had the community's benefit in mind. As long as he has something to say, Palo Altans will continue to lose public space.
I miss the Varsity theater ... I still have an old copper Varsity dollar that I have not used yet! ;-)
I agree with Sandy. The old Varsity would have made a perfect place for Theatreworks. I never understood why the city council jumped at the idea of building a new building when the Varsity was available.
Chop Keenan, shame on you. This is very bad news for Palo Alto. You will have very well deserved, strong, opposition.
I agree with Sandy and others that this should of course be the site of the Theatreworks theater, if we had any true philanthropists in the developer community.
put back theater for various movie documentaries, speeches and concerts! and true cafe ,not a clique or corporation cafe. a literary art cafe. who needs more technology?
Yea! Another office building in downtown! So much for the ordinance requiring retail only on ground floors. "Chop" (as affectionaly referenced by city council members, city staff, and Palo Alto Weekly writers) obviously has won the hearts of city staff and media as the next messiah and has chosen to bend the city rules and ordinances with the blessing of his new found following. What a pity! How embarreassing that the public has to watch its city leaders and local media fawn over the likes of a simple local developer.
Whatever happened to the city ordinance against anything but retail on the street level of downtown buildings? Who did Samsung or Chop Keenan bribe?
Look at it from the City Hall/Chamber of Commerce perspective. Having Samsung's geeks downtown could finally put Palo Alto on the map. What's a cafe compared with that?
So be nice to Keenan. He could have let Woodside have this honor, you know.
Great news; welcome Samsung!
Curmudgeon - great comment! Why would Woodside actually want those businesses when they already house so many of the technocrats? Why, they might have to improve the roads to allow all the cars from the lowlands who come to worship.
I'm so tired of being nearly force-fed garbage about big tech corporations, & now they're taking over downtown & shopping centers. The geek smugness makes me roll my eyes - I just don't worship at the feet of Sili Valley technocrats. This will be one less reason to head downtown. While I'm reminding myself of the retro rebellious punkers from high school, I understand why they acted that way & I'm feeling it now!
Send Samsung to the RR station area and invite TheatreWorks back into the center of Palo Alto! We need a cultural center in downtown Palo Alto, there isn't much there now to make a trip worthwhile.
Maria-We have the bing concert hall at Stanford. Brand new. Right near downtown.
According to the story "...will also feature a restaurant and a banquet hall on the bottom floor, a function that will also take advantage of the spacious courtyard in front of the building." That sounds like retail to me.
The city should have made Chop "show me the money" Keenan give the city a real public benefit. He should have been pressed to allow Theatreworks to be located in the old Varsity Theater. That would have been such a wonderful addition to downtown PA. The city has allowed Chop to get away with murder, and build massive, non-conforming commercial buildings in downtown PA, without giving the city any real public benefits. Palo Alto needs a strong, business minded mayor, who won't allow the city to be screwed by shrewd commercial developers.
I wish them the best of bad luck. Varsity, Borders now Samsung. Also wish the Apple store was still across the street so they could glare at each other.
Some of my greatest memories are watching classic movies at the Varsity in the 80s (Harold and Maude, Rock n Roll High School, Rocky Horror...) and enjoying drinks in the open air courtyard. Borders was a step down and 'Samsung accelerator' sounds like an empty concept. It would be a pity to lose the airy theater space. I suppose a restaurant making use of the courtyard will be some consolation.
I believe the building in downtown, and the zoning codes have turned the parking situation into a mess. That said, can anyone tell us which buildings Chop Kennan has gotten a variance for? I think he is the one builder who doesn't ask for PC zoning.
Before people malign Chop Keenan, you should take into account that he intentionally has not developed the property hosting the Aquarius theater so that downtown another movie theater.
And back in 1998, Chop offered to build a public safety building on one of the city's parking lots, but the city passed up that opportunity.
Very little of the Varsity Theater "fronts" University Ave, so he's making the best of what he can with property.
Groan. Yet another building to house people working cheek-by-jowel on laptops where there used to be interesting businesses for the hoi poloi. (yes, even Borders . . . what's wrong with books?). This will generate dozens of cars with no place to park except for the residential neighborhoods. If you live in Midtown or Southgate, it won't matter, but for those of us in the Alma, Middlefield, Embarcadero, Palo Alto Avenue box . . . Ugh, Chop strikes again!
Last week I returned from vacation. When you return the impact of
what has happened to Palo Alto- the congestion, the scale of the massive over-development, the ugliness of much of the new construction and streetscapes, the loss of character of the city,is truly shocking. The status quo, the ways things are done in Palo Alto, needs to be broken before all is lost. Without fundamental change don't expect any positive outcome on any issue.
realist - I have friends & family who live in Tahoe, Sonoma & Hawaii & they often comment how ugly Palo Alto has become when they're in town. The changes in MV & MP aren't as drastic, so it's no biggie, but in PA, you're right - very noticeable.
We have a family member coming to Stanford this summer from another country & I'd rather take him to Stanford Shopping Center, The Four Seasons & downtown Mt. View for local stuff than to downtown PA, or show him new developments.
so much for being a lauded ''palo altan'', this keenan. he lets a samsung place in the town of apple! is that spinning we hear up on arastradero?!
I know, right? Sometimes it even feels like there are 7+ million people living in the bay area now!
...adding a hotdog stand and coffee kiosk in the courtyard is hardly complying with the city ordinance requiring 1st floor only retail.
Picture the Varsity sign with "Samsung" on three sides where
"Borders" is now. A nice legacy to Steve Jobs at the historic Varsity Theatre in his home town. The City staff and ARB support whatever comes in from the big developers- carte blanche. Have we
hit bottom yet in Palo Alto? Apparently not
Samsung is moving into Apple territory. Love it!
One more reason not to bother going downtown. Doesn't industry belong out in the Shoreline district?
In the midst of all this comment/discussion, I couldn't help noticing that there has been no mention made of the parking impact of this development.
Note that by the City's very conservative estimate there is already a ~900 parking space deficit in the downtown area (equal to ~60 block faces of parking) now consumed by non-resident parking and another ~600 additional parking space deficit in the pipeline (equal to ~40 more block faces) that will be consumed as those pipeline developments open their doors.
Now Mr. Keenan is proposing a restaurant and Samsung's incubator style lab, both relatively people-dense style businesses. Where will those people park? Oh, I know . . . in the adjacent residential neighborhoods where the parking is free and just a pleasant short walk to University Avenue.
It won't be long before the residential areas north of Lytton Street to San Francisquito Creek and south of Channing Avenue to Embarcadero Road will be turned into giant commercial parking lots . . . unless we as residents start attending City Council meetings to make voices heard and electing representatives who value the residents' quality of life more than the business tax dollars and so-called in lieu fees that can be extracted from the developers.
Whatever happened to the guidelines spelled out in the City of Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan?
"Palo Alto is well known as a desirable residential community and a City with a healthy, competitive business community. Meeting the demands of each community is a major theme of the Plan. The Plan establishes the physical boundaries of residential and commercial areas and sets limits where necessary to ensure that business and housing remain compatible. It encourages commercial enterprise, but not at the expense of the City's residential neighborhoods."
- City of Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan (Revised 7/17/2007), Chapter 1, Page 3, under "Meeting Residential and Commercial Needs."
Of course you are right about the parking and lack of concern for
planning guidelines,neighborhood impacts, etc. This proposal endorsed
enthusiastically by the staff and ARB is just more of the same, with
the additional subjective aspect of putting Samsung's name on the
Varsity Theatre marquis in Steve Jobs hometown on University Ave which of course is Mr. Keenan's decision. This image is hard to grasp at this point but most likely will go viral. My suggestion is that Mr. Job's wife Laureen buy the Varsity Theatre and turn it over to Theatreworks which would be such a great civic contribution and
possibly by example usher in a new era in Palo Alto- we are in dire need of something dramatic here to begin to turn things around.
I mourn for Palo Alto. It has completely lost its soul, and it started with the transition of the Varsity Theater. I am seeing some opposition to recent potential projects and it gives me hope. Fight the good fight!
Sounds awful. Just more commercial things taking up precious space that could be used more for the community's benefit.
Eww, how much more sterilized can PA get? Next, they'll Lysol the streets every morning.
Thanks all for letting me be entertained with all your comments...It is a done deal for Keenan~ no one else came up with the cash except the Korean enterprise (we have been sold out!) Locals? Where are they all hiding with all the cash they have gathered??? Actually outsiders like Zuckerberg have seen the potential of having a business here. Our town has a special ambiance about it and everyone seems to want to jump on the band wagon and try to make their fortunes here..here in Techie Town! Wishing Samsung well in their development .. picking Stanford Students brains. We do have some pretty talented up and coming ~brainiest~ students on the planet. Hope they don't get robbed of their ideas and dreams. No choice now, so it's a wait and see project. Mrs. Jobs, Mrs. Zuckerberg... you surly could use a tax write off and at the same time become a LOCAL hero to the ones in a less fortunate position of not being able to purchase the Varsity...Please think about it~ before Keenan ruins the marquee..
Downtown was once so cool with bookstores, Mom and Pops, Office Supply, Five and Dime. It rocked. Now it's just turning into one giant and baleful corporate snooze fest. The Varsity Theatre building would be a wonderful cultural center for performing arts with that adorable courtyard as a lovely entryway. They want to plant a plastic tree. How tacky and sad.
Is it a done deal? The images of this actually playing out, the marquis etc, are so appalling and the local benefit of preserving the Theatre as a performing arts venue are so strong at the same time, Laurene Powell Jobs could come through here. In a sense this is a new game now. If it is difficult to break the lease with Samsung, to provide an alternative to Samsung more acceptable to the community Keenan should help his own image and act in his own self-interest, realize what a mistake he is making here, and offer space in his new building on High Street.Samsung needs to realize also that there will be a backlash against the company in a community in
which they are trying to establish a long-term relationship if they have a viable alternative and go ahead with this insensitive project.
And what will be the backlash against Samsung in palo alto? Are you planning to organize a boycott of Samsung phones? Good luck.
It's a done deal. You have a performing arts center a few blocks away at Stanford that is new.
There is a constant cacophony of complaints form people who,think this city should stay in the 1960s-- that time is past . Samsung will be a great addition to dwntown palo alto .
I think people are too pessimistic about this. I like the sound of what they are proposing for the ground floor and if it has the charm that Borders had, it will be used by the public.
As for what they do with the remainder of the building, it is a shame that the public doesn't get to use it. However, I expect that when Borders took over the building, there was speculation that they would destroy the theater and they didn't, the kept the integrity. I expect that whatever conditions Borders had will be the same for Samsung too.
I would love it to have been a venue for performing arts, school performances, local productions, etc. However, I see no reason to believe that this is going to destroy the building at all.
I am just pleased that it is not going to be left to rot or to be razed altogether. Now about that downtown Post Office site...
Only in Palo Alto, bitching and moaning about companies and jobs moving into town. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
@Not an issue
This is the same as the Maybell case- the residents are not against senior housing, they are against it at that location with the
rezoning for high density. Same thing here. We are not saying we
are opposed to Samsung in Downtown PA, we are against Samsung at this location, the Varsity Theatre. Let's not throw away the 60's
and just move on as you suggest. Steve Jobs came out of the 60's.
This Keenan make-over of the Varsity is symbolically, physically in
its visual impact, and culturally in taking this site out of its
potential use, a mistake.
This is totally NOT LIKE the Maybell case--we are not building anything new. The integrity of the structure will be maintained as it was when Borders was there (" In accordance with state and local law, these renovations would leave the historical elements of the building intact.")
The building has sat empty for almost 2 years. There will also be a restaurant on the bottom floor.
"This Keenan make-over of the Varsity is symbolically, physically in
its visual impact, and culturally in taking this site out of its
potential use, a mistake."
THE HRB and ARB have approved the project. Make you displeasure known to Mr Keenan, but remember he owns the property and is following the rules.
BTW, who is this "we" you are talking about. What about the backlash against Samsung you are talking about? How do you plan that? Will there be a backlash against the restaurant as well?
Time to move on. The 20th century is over. Not sure why you are mixing in the Jobs family in all this. There is a brand new Performing Arts Center down the road at Stanford.
Comparison with the Maybell project is completely bogus.
Maybe after PRISM pops the social networking bubble, the Varsity can revert back to punk rock and transylvania movies?
@not an issue
The comparison with Maybell is simply the proposed use is at the wrong location. Physically we are not talking about the integrity of the historic structure, but primarily the signage. That's why the HRB could approve it. The fact that the ARB approved it means absolutely nothing when you look at what else they have approved. I do not know to what degree or level of detail the signage was discussed but that is crucial as far as the Theatre marquis. The linkage with Jobs/Apple Computer is the fact that the two companies are locked in multinational patent infringement lawsuits over phones
and tablets. The visual image of Samsung "accelerator" signs on the Varsity Theatre marquis on University Avenue in Downtown Palo Alto is really over the top. Give Samsung Mr. Keenan's High Street building. I have nothing against the proposed restaurant in the courtyard- that sounds like a good idea. The Bing Concert Hall at
Stanford has a coffee bar in the glass enclosed foyer.
Well, opportunity, looks like you will have to live with the signage. As for the ARB approval-- it mean everything- signage approved, remodel approved-- full speed ahead. But still do not understand the nitpicking over signage. But go ahead and file a lawsuit to stop it, while boycotting Samsung products. Or would you prefer it to remain empty for a few more years ( making it the home for theatre works or reopening as a movie theatre are not viable options) . Remember that this Keenan's property. He has played by the rules. He has the necessary approvals. End of story
As Roberts said above, only in palo alto. Another palo alto phenomenon is that people think they should have the final say over others private property without any financial commitment on their part.
Time to move on
Just as long the interior theater building is not gutted, destroyed or changed in any way. So many old theaters are knocked down due to neglect. 2 years is not that long to sit empty but 10 years is tough on a building.
Beside way things go in this valley, would Samsung keep this venture for 10 years or longer.
The low roof attached to the front of a theater above its entrance that has a sign with the name of a movie, show, or performer on it is a marquee, not a marquis, which is a man of middle rank in the nobility of a European country other than the U.K. They are pronounced the in the same way. They are homonyms.
And, in the name of the great god Odin, what does it matter whether Samsung or Yoyodyne or some other company occupies that office space? Apple, I'm sure doesn't care a whit. Samsung isn't selling its products from that location so it's not competition for the Apple store.
Sorry about the misspelling of marquee. It looks like the Marquis Theatre on Broadway has it wrong too. No, Samsung isn't going to sell products to compete with Apple on University Ave.What they are doing is tapping the local talent to produce the "next big thing" or the "one more thing" as Jobs used to put it. I think Apple does pay attention to that. But that is not the City's business. To your other point, when the local property owner, Mr. Keenan, puts a Samsung "accelerator" in the Varsity Theatre, such a high profile tenant and use, involved in multi-national patent lawsuits with the local company,then he is in effect doubling-down on the impact of his conversion of the Theatre to office space, drawing more attention to it. In this high profile situation, the signage, the use of the Theatre marquee, becomes an issue for the City. The Varsity Theatre takes on a different character altogether.
You miss the point about the Marquis Theatre. That's the name of the theatre; perhaps the owners felt that added a bit of class to the enterprise. But the Marquis Theatre has a marquee, upon which it advertises the productions currently running.
As to your other point, are you saying that landlords should not rent to any companies that compete with homegrown (relatively) firms like Apple? That seems ridiculous. Are you aware that Microsoft and Sony, hardly pals of Apple, have operations in Silicon Valley? Should they be prohibited from establishing labs in the area?
The main concerns of the City of Palo Alto are about whether or not the tenant runs a legitimate business and whether or not it pays its taxes. In that regard, the city would rather have a tenant in that space than an empty building, given that workers patronize other businesses in the area. Any perceived tensions between Apple and Samsung are not the city's business, nor should they be -- unless they break into armed conflict on University Avenue.
I suspect that the number of people who see any issue here at all is infinitesimal.
I understand your point about the name of the theatre- that's why I said "it looks like" and you said "perhaps". We both don't know the
You are generalizing. We are talking about an historic courtyard
theatre in Downtown Palo Alto on University Ave here- not a research
park off Lawrence Expy. The preservation of the character of the historic resource, the signage pertaining to it, and to the streetscape on University Ave are or should be of major concern to the City. Vast numbers of people in Palo Alto, who gave up on preserving it as a performing arts or cultural center see it as I do, not as you do. And Apple Computer is as local as it gets - the founder lived down the street the last 15 years. It was started in a garage in Los Altos.
@opportunity - good luck. you are several days later and many dollars short. and sure, apple is kind of local (moreso in cupertino in my opinion), but then so is google, which makes android, which powers the samsung phones/tablets, which is where they really compete with apple. Nook development is in downtown PA too, btw. Personally, I'm happy to see Samsung coming in and putting more technology zing in downtown Palo Alto.
150 more employees, no downtown parking, 8-10 more residential blocks devoted to commercial parking. Planning, gotta love it.
DT south neighborhood--Planning and transportation had nothing to do with this--this is a pre-existing building,so no input from them.
In general, the city does not want empty storefronts in the downtown area. plus they want retail on ground level--so that means employees and customers.
The fact that they refuse to address the parking issues is another problem
It would surely seem a wise move for Samsung to retain and maintain the sign which adds such color to downtown, rather than replacing it with some generic corporate blandness, and a fervently hope they do so. I also wonder -- is anyone, besides me,curious about this "accelerator" and how it works, whether there is already some sort of pipeline in place with Stanford, or whether they are just hoping Stanford comes to them? I'd have liked a bit more to the story. And, given the local feeling on the part of many towards preservation, there is news to be covered, and questions to be answered, there, too.
Downtown Palo Alto is rapidly losing most of the charm that made it a pleasant place for the people who actually live here. Want to live in a pseudo-urban theme park that will drift into seediness as soon as it's no longer trendy? Move somewhere else. Leave my town alone.
The historic Varsity Theatre sign will stay. The question is how will it be treated.The streetscape can't take much more destruction.
The new Roxy Rapp megastructure at Bryant has done enormous damage
in terms of color, scale, blandness. The Council actually reduced
the height 5 feet I think from what was proposed. That's what they
do here- tweak it. Just like Maybell, etc, etc. Except The Cheesecake
Factory- that doesn't seem to have been tweaked at all. The results here of bad projects and over-building are piling up so fast it is shocking what is happening.
Could it be that Sony now has a corporate goal of setting up down the street from Apple every chance it gets. There are a Sony and an Apple in the Stanford Shopping Center. (Isn't That enough for the area?) Can Microsoft be far behind?
Oops! There are too many players on the field. Samsung, is not Sony.
Samsung's Accelerator sounds like the same thing basically as AT&T's Foundry Innovation Center at 260 Homer Ave in Palo Alto. Perhaps there are more of these around already. This is or may become a fashion with large companies. Car companies, we read, are getting interested in apps that run on car systems.
Large companies feel a creativity deficit of course. There can be high inherent inertia in a large company only increased by the reality that real technical and so organizational change doesn't get people retrained, it gets them in the street. Today's schedules don't encourage creativity either.
However, their needs complement nicely the fact that cheap space is almost totally gone on this side of the Bay. Technology is coming to the rescue for some software development as it gets easier and cheaper to set up virtual groups over any reasonable speed network. Of course that's not true for expensive test setups using phone equipment or expensive Cloud services. So perhaps it will work out all around. It will have to pay for itself over time and is not R&D, it sounds like D.
@jb: Microsoft is cheek by jowl with Apple at the big mall.
They also have a lab in the valley. All the major players have some presence in Silicon Valley and have had for some time. That's why I don't understand all the fuss about Samsung's project (yes, I know about the sanctity of the Varsity).
I wrote this in my blog in July, 2011, two years ago, and spoke out with similar vehemence another 50 times or so:
Or, as Levon Helm might say, "Don't do it. Don't break my heart." Don't add another retailer to that jewel-box gathering space, without at least one last kiss goodbye, or 500! I am canvassing, by phone, text, email and in person, to find like-minded potential stake-holders in hopes of getting a hearing from Keenan, who was said to be already fielding queries from national retailers and 2.0 tech firms. He is said to be considering first floor retail and second floor office space. Speaking of chains, the ghost of guitar whiz Michael Hedges (1953-1997) reportedly said through a medium that he he prefers artists over code-writers in his former favorite haunt.
I would still argue that there is considerable community support for a more public use of 456 University the historic and beloved Varsity Theatre and when staff member Fehrenbach says "we're delighted" I question who he speaks for.
Here's a link to my other posts (excuse the non-journalistic stylings and obscure references):
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