Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
A woman walks through the alleyway connecting Third and Fourth
avenues that San Mateo officials want Draper to improve.
In an effort to ensure Draper University follows through with property enhancements and conforms to city policies, San Mateo city officials sat down with the founder of the entrepreneurial boarding school last week.
Mayor Robert Ross, Councilman Jack Matthews and City Manager Larry Patterson met with Tim Draper Tuesday to discuss the school’s ability to earn permanent occupancy by improving the alleyway along the Benjamin Franklin Hotel building, constructing a landscaped living wall and filling ground floor retail space at the Collective Building on Third Avenue.
Ross said he was hopeful after meeting directly with Draper, not just his staff, and although specifics were not established, progress was made.
Draper intends to hire a marketing professional to assist in managing the pop-up retail spaces, reconsider building a living wall and possibly pay to use the city’s contractors to keep the alleyway clean, Ross said.
Draper purchased the Third Avenue buildings in 2011 along with a former bank building on Fourth Avenue with the novel idea of creating a boarding school for young entrepreneurs. In April and August of last year, the city issued temporary occupancy permits on the condition the school would make landscape and alleyway improvements.
As part of the city’s Downtown Plan, the campus also needs to have retail space on the ground floor of the Collective Building on the north side of Third Avenue.
Yet it’s been months since the permits expired and little has been completed, Matthews said.
“I think it’s important [for Draper] to follow through with the commitment [he] made, the conditions of approval. But also it may be that some of the things they proposed, they hadn’t thought through all the way and I don’t want to be punitive about it. So I’m trying to keep an open mind about what would be an acceptable alternative that would be equal in scope and impact and just work with them on that,” Matthews said.
The city has tried to work with Draper, having held a study session in January and agreeing to provide the school with an encroachment permit to install a fiber optic network across Third Avenue last month.
The three main outstanding concerns were the cleanliness of the alley connecting Third and Fourth avenues, landscape enhancements including a living wall and conforming with the city’s Downtown Plan by hosting ground-floor retail space at the Collective Building, Matthews said.
Draper’s staff had originally claimed construction of a living wall against the Benjamin Franklin Hotel building was discouraged by the historic society, instead putting in a few insufficient planters, Matthews said.
But a free-standing living wall is still viable and would help disguise the trash cans along the alley, Matthews said.
Keeping the courtyard clean and free from cigarette butts has been frustrating to citizens. The city suggested the school could contract with a company it uses to maintain its downtown parking structures, Ross said.
The meeting was extremely helpful and clarified what Draper needs to do to move forward, Patterson said.
“I think we were able to have a conversation about some things that were probably just misunderstandings and it created an opportunity for some real success going forward so I’m very optimistic where we’re headed from here,” Patterson said.
Draper previously said he’d been briefed on meetings between his staff and the city; however wrote he is reassured after speaking directly with Ross, Matthews and Patterson.
“It is clear from our meeting that we have the same interests as the city does and we look forward to continuing to make Draper University the best that it can be. The more successful Draper University becomes, the more successful San Mateo becomes,” Draper wrote in an email.
The city’s requirements still stand and Draper has to make progress, yet it is unclear when it will come to fruition, Matthews said.
“We talked in general about the relationship between the university and the city and the downtown business community and how this could be a win, win, win situation for everyone and he’s been very much supportive I think of that. ... So now it’s just a matter of staff, city staff and his folks, of working on a timeline of when things are going to get done,” Matthews said. “My sense is that to get things moving along in a positive direction it required his personal attention to see what our concerns were and share with us what his issues were just to get past whatever inertia was there and get things moving again.”
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