Hotel President owners apply to city to open 100-unit hotel despite obstacles

The Hotel President at 488 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo.
The Hotel President at 488 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The new owners of the Hotel President in downtown Palo Alto have filed an application to turn the 75-unit apartment building into a 100-unit hotel, despite broad political opposition and zoning codes that would prevent the conversion.

The Chicago-based hotelier Adventurous Journeys Capital, which buys and restores historic hotels in college towns under the name Graduate Hotels, submitted the application to renovate 488 University Ave. on Monday (Feb 4).

“After decades of decline, the historic Hotel President was acquired by AJ Capital in June of 2018 with the intention of restoring it to its former grandeur and purpose as a destination hotel,” Graduate Hotels President Tim Franzen said in a statement.

Plans to add lobby, lounge

The project would primarily focus on interior improvements to the 1929 building. The ground-floor retail space, which today houses the President Barbershop, Pluto’s Restaurant and Gyros Gyros, would remain.

AJ Capital is also seeking to add a hotel lobby and lounge in the existing apartment lobby and vacant retail spaces, including the recently closed Yogurtland.

The 75 studio and one-bedroom apartments on floors two through six would be converted to 100 hotel guest rooms. AJ Capital wants to keep the existing roof garden and add one parking space to the 11 that exist in the basement.

The project would also include a structural seismic retrofit, a “fully sprinklered” safety update and compliance with accessibility law.

‘Historically correct’ facade

“Nonhistoric” storefronts would be replaced with “historically correct” storefronts, including copper mullions and ceramic tile bases. AJ Capital is also seeking to repaint the exterior with a color palette that “celebrates the historic nature of the building.”

The conversion has been an explosive political issue since June, when AJ Capital bought the building for $65 million and told the tenants to be out by Nov. 12.

That date was later delayed, though today just a handful of tenants are still in the building. AJ Capital has given those residents who are elderly, disabled or injured until the end of the month to move out.

In December, council expressed a desire to keep a law that is standing in the way of the Hotel President from being converted.

That law prohibits property owners from changing the use of an oversized building such as the Hotel President.

Last week, the Planning and Transportation Commission recommended that the council change that rule while protecting housing units from conversion, which would pose a roadblock for AJ Capital.

200 parking spaces required

The hotelier would also have to contend with rules that require almost 200 parking spaces and the city’s 350,000-square-foot commercial growth cap downtown.
The council is scheduled to consider lifting that growth cap on Monday.

For all the obstacles and unpopularity of the project, Franzen said it would forge ahead with the process, noting that the company “respectfully disagrees” with the city’s interpretation of its zoning code around conversions.

“For the last half year, AJ Capital has not only complied with all city requirements with respect to planning and implementation but has strived to cooperate and work with the city and the residents in addressing their needs and concerns,” Franzen said.