SAN RAFAEL -- A prominent Terra Linda hilltop feature for four decades could become home to seniors rather than office workers under a plan to convert the 131,000-square-foot building to housing.
If brought to fruition, One Thorndale would be a novel move for some of the older North Bay commercial space that has been vacant for years and amounting to as much as a quarter of rentable office space in certain submakets. Conversions of offices to residences happened in San Francisco after the dot-com bust emptied buildings. More recently, there have been notable office conversions in the Boston area and northern New Jersey.
[caption id="attachment_82119" align="alignleft" width="350"] The One Thorndale vacant office building on a San Rafael hilltop is being remarketed for 77 senior apartments. (image credit: Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank)[/caption]
Sausalito-based Berg Holdings Corp. (415-289-4924, bergholdings.com), which owns the vacant One Thorndale Drive building, wants to create 77 age-restricted flats on all three floors, rather than the current configuration of offices on the top floor and part of the second plus parking in the remainder, according to Tennis "JT" Wick, a principal with the firm. The conceptual floorplan calls for a cafe on the first floor, fitness center on the second floor and meeting rooms on the top floor. The existing outside parking lot on the 5.36-acre property would be expanded to move cars out of the building and mostly off the street.
"The building has been vacant for five years," Mr. Wick said. "I think we finally found a use that's going to work there."
Berg Holdings and an unnamed prospective senior-housing developer-operator met with city of San Rafael planning officials several months ago about the possibility of such a conversion.
Berg submitted a preapplication primer on the proposal to Planning Manager Raffi Boloyan on Thursday and plans to turn in a formal application early next year.[poll id="92"]
"When the city of San Rafael adopted the General Plan in 2004, to meet housing needs and mandates one of the things that was encouraged and zoned for was more residential uses in more commercial-use areas," said city Planning Manager Raffi Boloyan. The Association of Bay Area Governments in its 2014--2022 Regional Housing Needs Assessment said San Rafael needed to create 1,003 home dwellings for various income levels in that period.
That would allow multifamily-unit creation by right in an office-zoned area such as One Thorndale's. Depending on what Berg Holdings seeks in its formal application as far as external building modifications and other factors, a basic conversion could proceed to the building permit stage quickly, Mr. Boloyan said.
The three-story building at One Thorndale Drive has been vacant since Take-Two Interactive, formerly Sega Visual Concepts, and then Disney’s ImageMovers Digital animation studio moved to Hamilton Landing in Novato.
There had been interest from large tenants -- particularly, Kaiser Permanente and Marin General Hospital -- for much of the 70,000 to 80,000 square feet of available office space in the building in recent years, but those deals either fizzled or have stalled, according to Brian Eisberg, a longtime agent in the San Rafael office of Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank. He and David Walwyn of the same brokerage have been marketing the property as office space and more recently as housing.