What is at University Circle now?

  • Mixed-use campus built in 2003.
  • Includes 3 six-story office buildings and a 200 room Four Seasons operated hotel.
  • Total of 2,060 parking spaces; 1,512 in one level underground parking garage, 548 surface spaces.
  • The office buildings and podium deck are managed and jointly owned by Columbia Property Trust (NYSE: CXP) which is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that purchased the property in 2005. The Four Seasons Hotel is separately owned and shares parking, access and property operations with Columbia.

 

What is the proposed expansion?

  • A fourth six-story, 180,000 square foot office building at southwest corner of property where there is currently a surface parking lot.
  • Proposed building is similar in architectural character to existing office buildings.
  • Building will include approximately 2,940 square foot community meeting space. We are currently working with the community to define the use and look of the space.
  • Three-level underground parking garage integrated with existing parking garage, 513 new spaces.
  • Existing office buildings will undergo retrofit to bathroom fixtures to create water use savings that offset water consumption of the proposed building.
  • Part of an overall capital investment plan to re-vitalize the University Circle campus that also includes redeveloping the Circle completed in 2018, and future improvements to better integrate University Circle into the East Palo Alto community.

 

What is the process of approval for the expansion, and what is the timing?

  • In Sept 2017, University Circle submitted a Pre-application for the new office building. In 2019 University Circle held community meetings, and both the East Palo Alto Planning Commission and City Council held study sessions to provide input on the project. In late 2019 University Circle submitted a formal application for the new building. In 2020 the City of East Palo Alto will evaluate the application and engage in the state mandated environmental review which will result in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The EIR will require mitigation of environmental impacts. The City will also require certain “community benefits” over and above statutory requirements and fees associated with the project. There will be more community meetings and study sessions in 2020, followed by formal public hearings on the EIR and the project in early 2021.

 

Won’t this application violate certain settlement agreements?

  • No. University Circle is subject to Settlement Agreements with the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association that prohibit construction activities in support of new development at the site until December 15, 2023. University Circle does not intend to begin construction of its proposal until after December 15, 2023. University Circle is merely planning and processing its proposal at present and expects to begin project planning in more detail as December 15, 2023, approaches, and such actions do not violate the agreements; no construction is underway at this time or planned prior to December 15, 2023.

 

Traffic is already so bad in and around University Circle, how can the owners propose to build a project that will make an already bad situation even worse?

  • As one of the key Community Benefits associated with this project that we are not required to do, University Circle will be widening Woodland at University and adding a second left turn lane to speed traffic flow through the intersection for all users.
  • University Circle has a robust and award-winning Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program that is actively managed by a program manager and coordinator, and, many of our tenants also employ informal TDM measures.
  • University Circle’s current (pre-pandemic) measured morning peak hour traffic constitutes about 11% of all peak hour traffic that passes through the University Circle /Woodland Avenue intersection. University Circle’s evening peak hour trip generation represents 13% of all University Ave /Woodland Avenue peak hour traffic.
  • Using Peak Hour Trips as the standard measure of traffic impacts, University Circle is currently generating roughly half of the trips that International Traffic Engineering (ITE) tables suggest should be generated by the current operation.

 

How many people work at University Circle now, and how many will this new project add?

  • Today (pre-pandemic), University Circle has 460,000 square feet of office in operation, and approximately 1,100 employees. (This does not include the hotel.) Based on our current space utilization, we could expect 450 employees to work in the new building.

 

You are removing parking stalls to make space for the building. Will there be enough parking?

  • Yes. The current parking garage is significantly underutilized. With addition of the new office building we will remove 86 surface parking spaces and add 513 parking spaces underground, for a net increase of 427 spaces. This results in the same parking ratio per employee that exists today at University Circle.

 

What’s in this for the City of East Palo Alto?

  • At build-out the project would provide in excess of $400,000 in annual property tax/fee revenue to the City of East Palo Alto, plus more than $450,000 in one-time city taxes. Hundreds of construction jobs, new ongoing jobs in the building and indirect jobs in the surrounding community.
  • The new building and investment in the current buildings will help to ensure that high quality office tenants with a variety of job opportunities are attracted and retained in East Palo Alto.
  • LEED Platinum construction, replacing inefficient surface parking with economically productive office building and parking underground, plus leading-edge innovation in resource utilization and traffic management.
  • No direct housing or business displacement.
  • A community benefits package related to this project will be developed in coordination with the City of East Palo Alto and our neighbors. The Columbia team has been engaging with the City and in the Westside neighborhood and overall community and has identified community needs and potential areas of community benefits to be explored:
  • Traffic improvements: Street and intersection upgrades, Transportation Demand Management (TDM)
  • Pedestrian and bike connectivity within the Westside and across Hwy 101
  • Community meeting space, and East Palo Alto commemorative/historical space
  • Addition of open space in the Westside
  • Upgrades to Manhattan Ave property frontage and landscaping
  • Jobs and job training
  • Parking solutions on the Westside

 

How does this conform to the East Palo General Plan and vision for the Westside?

  • This project conforms to the Guiding Principles and Values of the East Palo Alto General Plan in the areas of fiscal health and stability, economic equity and vitality, high quality public facilities and infrastructure, sustainability and environmental protection, transportation choices, social capital and community connections, and strategic engagement with the region.
  • In addition, expansion of University Circle is specifically noted in the East Palo Alto General Plan as part of two policy goals:
  • Goal LU-2: Revitalize the City’s non-residential areas to diversify the tax base and improve the jobs-housing balance. Sub section 2.7 states: University Circle. Over time, consistent with the planning and legal framework, allow for intensification of the University Circle project to include an additional office or hotel building and incorporate shared or un-bundled parking.
  • Goal W-2: A diverse land use mix to create a livable Westside. Sub section 2.6 states: Allow the University Circle project to add development over the time horizon of the General Plan so long as it meets the vision of the Westside, is designed to integrate with the adjacent neighborhood, and provides direct and measurable benefits for the City and the residents of the Westside.

 

What’s in this for University Circle’s neighbors on the Westside?

  • We have had ongoing dialog with neighbors on the Westside and learned about some of the needs in the neighborhood. We are in the process of implementing a shared parking program onsite at University Circle for our westside neighbors. The new building will include a 3,000 square foot community room that will be offered free to East Palo Alto organizations. We're also proposing to improve pedestrian and bike access around the site and to the City's future pedestrian bridge across 101, as well as opening up the property’s integration with the surrounding community with new staircases from Manhattan and University into the site. All of these priorities are consistent with the Guiding Principles of the Westside Area Plan.
  • There will be no direct residential displacement as a result of this project.

 

University Circle is nice, but it feels very isolated from the rest of the Westside community, and, in fact in many ways is serves to divide the residents to the North and South from each other, and the rest of EPA, isn’t there something that can be done about that?

  • The University Circle Phase 2 project will include construction of a staircase directly onto the site from Manhattan Avenue, and another directly from University Avenue.
  • The new building will include a 3,000 square foot Community Room that can be used for meetings, events, education, exhibits and more. There will be a 1,000 square foot outdoor plaza next to the community room, ideal for outdoor events. This area will also feature art and plaques commemorating the history of East Palo Alto and Whiskey Gulch. These spaces will be directly accessible via the proposed stairs from University Avenue, and easily accessible to neighbors via new stairs to the site from Manhattan Avenue.
  • The City of EPA is planning to construct a dedicated bike/pedestrian lane along University Avenue and University Circle is providing an easement along the South side of its property to facilitate that construction.
  • University Circle hosts a number of events throughout the year that are open to the community, including:
  • Juneteenth – This is a national celebration Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Juneteenth independence day, is an American holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America. This event was held at University Circle in 2018 and 2019 and is scheduled for 2020.
  • Farmers Market every Thursday throughout the year (exceptions for rain and holidays)
  • Music in the Circle, 3rd Thursday of the month in June, July, August and September
  • Commuter Fair, 3rd Thursday of August
  • Meeting space for EPA Nonprofit Organizations. Meeting space is based on availability. To inquire about dates and space information, contact Michelle Goudeaux at michelle.goudeaux@columbia.reit or call 650-324-3805.

 

How will construction affect the surrounding neighborhood?

  • The State of California and the City of East Palo Alto regulate construction impacts such work hours, dust, noise, construction vehicle travel routes and more. While the details need to be worked out, all of the requirements will be documented in the Conditions of Approval for the project and enforced. When the time gets closer, we will be reaching out to the community to inform people about what is happening and who to call in case of concerns or questions.
  • Construction will require a temporary relocation of the existing main entrance to the property and re-routing of some traffic along Woodland Ave and Manhattan Ave. University Circle is working with the City to prepare a specific plan that minimizes the impact on the Westside neighbors, and this will be carefully scrutinized as part of the project’s traffic impact analysis.

 

University Circle is owned by a big publicly traded company in New York; what are they doing to become a better member of the East Palo Alto community?

  • University Circle/Columbia Property Trust is committed to being a good neighbor and to having ongoing engagement with the community.
  • We are supporting non-profit organizations through contributions and volunteer service in the areas of jobs/job training, and youth/education; offering our facility for non-profit organization and community events
  • We have had ongoing dialog with neighbors on the Westside and we are exploring how we can help to address parking challenges in the neighborhood, improving pedestrian and bike access across 101, and open up the property’s integration with the surrounding community.
  • Columbia has been an owner and manager of University Circle for over a decade, and this planning process is further evidence of Columbia's long-term commitment to the property and East Palo Alto.

 

Who is Columbia Property Trust?

  • Columbia is a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) that owns and manages Class A office buildings across the US. Columbia owns University Circle through a joint venture partnership with one other investor and has managed all aspects of the campus since purchasing it in 2005. The company’s West Coast operations are based in San Francisco, and Columbia’s entire property management and leasing team for University Circle is based in and around East Palo Alto. For more information about Columbia Property Trust, please visit www.columbia.reit.


Who is coUrbanize?

coUrbanize is a community engagement software that is facilitating outreach and communication between University Circle and residents of East Palo Alto. The coUrbanize interface makes it easy for anyone to follow the project's progress, share your ideas, and ask questions. University Circle and the property owner/manager, Columbia Property Trust, have engaged coUrbanize to provide and manage this website and the underlying software platform, as a trusted resource in their efforts to provide an avenue for community members to get involved and voice their feedback and support for the proposed project.