Though San Mateo officials considered a plan to convert one of two buildings at the city’s downtown train station into a café serving commuters, they ultimately approved a proposal to locate offices for a youth sports club at the transit hub.

Host to a variety of office tenants in recent years, the question of who might move into the 1,670-square-foot building on the southern end of the station has been up for review since 2018 when Facebook acquired the building’s most recent tenant, the technology company Redkix. The October closure of the Melting Pot — which had previously operated out of a 5,000-square-foot building adjacent to the office building — also spurred a search for a new tenant, which ended in late January when the Burlingame-based restaurant Rise Pizzeria’s proposal to locate the business’ second location earned the City Council’s approval.

Having started its operations with a community-driven youth flag football program at Junipero Serra High School, Next Level Sports has expanded its programs to more than 45 locations on the West Coast since it was founded in 2011, according to a staff report. Because the lease of the organization’s current office space is ending, Next Level Sports pegged the space previously home to Redkix as a suitable location for its headquarters, according to the report.

But a request from resident Steven Baldridge to postpone a decision on the lease with Next Level Sports caused officials to consider whether another use could be accommodated in the space. Baldridge said he hoped to present plans to build a cafe serving commuters on the go in the coming weeks and hoped officials could consider his proposal alongside the others.

Though he presented a letter of intent to city staff earlier this year, Baldridge said he revised his plans and discussed the possibility of offering coffee in the smaller train station building with the owners of Rise Pizzeria. He noted the project would require building a kitchen in the space, and he would request the city cover $150,000 of those upgrades, the remainder of which his business would cover. While Next Level Sports offered to pay $5,400 a month to rent the space, Baldridge offered to pay $6,800 in monthly rent.

Having traveled through the station as a commuter, Baldridge said the plans were designed to serve those who are rushing through the station on their way in or out of downtown San Mateo.

“I can speak on behalf of being a commuter through that train station and understand the mentality of the commuter,” he said, according to a video of the meeting.

Though city staff reviewed Baldridge’s letter of intent previously, Jennifer Chen, the city’s economic development manager, said they opted not to recommend the proposal out of concerns about the cost of installing a kitchen in the space and the building’s proximity to another coffee shop, Red Giant Coffee, in a retail space in the city-owned Main Street parking garage just west of the Caltrain tracks on First Avenue.

Baldridge said he would be willing to sell Red Giant Coffee’s roasted coffee at the cafe and previously discussed coordination of coffee sales with the owners of Rise Pizzeria. In response to Councilman Eric Rodriguez’s question about his experience with this type of business, Baldridge said he has more than 30 years of experience in the tech industry as well as operations and management.

For Councilman Joe Goethals, whether the train station was the only location Baldridge would consider for his new venture was a focus. Baldridge noted he pegged the downtown train station as an ideal location given his intent to serve commuters, and Goethals wondered if Baldridge could find another downtown retail location better-suited to his business’ needs in other developments being built nearby in downtown San Mateo.

“I’d love to see you succeed … I’d love to see you find the right space,” he said. “I think that there will be many opportunities in downtown San Mateo.”

Councilman Rick Bonilla acknowledged he was intrigued by Baldridge’s idea but voiced concern about the cost the city could incur if the space needs to be converted back into office space later.

“I would encourage you to keep looking in San Mateo, it looks like an interesting concept,” he said. “I just don’t think this is the right place or the right time for this right now.”

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