San Mateo city officials are assessing the status of the entrepreneurial Draper University of Heroes project and working with its officials to complete agreed upon aesthetic property improvements required to finalize permits for the downtown campus centered in the former Benjamin Franklin Hotel.
The university needs to complete the pedestrian walkway adjacent to the Third Avenue entrance, finalize the pop-up retail spaces and make landscape enhancements among other things, said Rory Walsh, director of the Community Development Department. Once the university completes these outstanding improvements, it will be issued finalized permits and the project will be considered complete, Walsh said.
“A lot of it probably had to do with them getting things going for the school. But these items had just probably not become their top priority,” Walsh said.
Launching the unique business incubator amidst restoring three downtown properties has been an exhausting process; but the school is keeping up the momentum and excited to finalize its properties, said Draper’s Director of Development Ken Jillson.
“We’re locked and loaded. We’re really just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. … It was an enormous project and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Jillson said.
The university is opening its doors to a fourth batch of business hungry boarding students and launching another online program today, Jillson said.
To allow the university to welcome in its first class of entrepreneurial students last year, the city issued temporary certificates of occupancy, which are typically acceptable for 90 days, according to a staff report. The permits were issued in April and August. As the year came to a close, city staff began to receive complaints about the university’s exterior so they decided to approach the council for direction. Since the matter was agendized, Draper has become responsive and cooperative, Walsh said.
“The had received temporary certificates of occupancy for a variety of their building permits, but some things were taking a little bit of time and we wanted to get some direction from [the City Council] on how to proceed. … Since we’ve agendized it, they’re working diligently,” Walsh said.
When well-known venture capitalist Tim Draper acquired the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, Collective building and a former bank building in downtown San Mateo in 2011, the city was thrilled to welcome the innovative university for young entrepreneurs into its midst, Walsh said.
“I think it’s been very positive for the community. I think it’s brought more activity to the downtown and it’s brought the young age group of folks that are going to the school. So I think it’s been absolutely positive for San Mateo,” Walsh said.
As the notable and progressive short-term boarding school chose to make San Mateo its home, the city recognized considerable community benefits and issued the temporary permits in good faith, according to the report.
Permit in hand, Draper was able to begin redeveloping the previously underutilized property to welcome a fresh batch of eager students and celebrate its grand opening in October, according to the report.
The opening went off with a bang and overall the university has done a good job preserving the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, Walsh said. But part of the holdup was its grand ideas of landscaping and installing a “living wall” turned out to not be compatible with the historic building, Jillson said. Having the opportunity tomorrow to collaborate with the city and receive guidance from the council will help the university progress through the trials, Jillson said.
The university will continue to partner with the city and work with city’s arborist to resolve any outstanding obligations. Once the gritty details have been smoothed over, Draper University of Heroes will be ready for a final walkthrough, Jillson said.
“We love San Mateo, we really do,” Jillson said. “From our standpoint, being able to build this campus and just the opportunity to build that kind of ecosphere has just been awesome.”
Tomorrow’s study session begins 5:45 p.m. at City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106