Sobrato’s plans for Fry’s site head to next step

The mostly abandoned Fry's store at 340 Portage Road in Palo Alto. Post photo.

Daily Post Correspondent

The Sobrato Organization’s $84 million proposal for the old Fry’s Electronics site is heading to Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board for a hearing on Thursday, as the developer continues to fine-tune its plans.

The project would include 74 market-rate townhouses, research and development space, and about 2,600 square feet of retail.

Sobrato would also donate about 3.25 acres of the 14.6-acre to the city. The city would use about one acre for below-market rate housing and the remainder for a park along Matadero Creek.

The land donation is part of a deal announced last year between the city and the developer. The city had been looking at changing permitted uses for the site and wanted to avoid getting sued by Sobrato. As part of the deal, Sobrato would also give the city $5 million to use for the housing and the park.

Since the deal was announced in June, Sobrato’s proposal has been discussed by the City Council, Planning and Transportation Commission, Historic Resources Board, Architectural Review Board, the Public Art Commission and the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

According to a report to the Architectural Review Board for Thursday’s meeting, the developer is continuing to fine-tune the plan. Some of the issues being discussed are the height of a two-level parking structure, the mix of architectural styles for the townhomes, and whether more trees can be preserved.

The proposed redevelopment site is in the North Ventura neighborhood, with boundaries including Park Boulevard, Ash Street and Portage Avenue.

Former cannery

At the center of the site is the old cannery building, a long structure that is perpendicular to Park Boulevard. Fry’s Electronics occupied about the middle third of the building before it closed at the end of 2019. Research and development companies are in the space at the two ends of the cannery building.

Sobrato wants to renovate the former Fry’s space and move one of its research tenants there. The other research tenant, Playground Global, plans to stay where it is in the section of the cannery building farthest from Park Boulevard.


The section of the building closest to Park Boulevard would be torn down. That space would be combined with other space at the site to make room for 74 market rate townhouses with three- and four-bedroom floor plans.
Sobrato would keep a building on Ash Street as offices and convert an automotive building on Park Boulevard to research space.

About 2,600 square feet of the cannery building, across from the city’s planned park, would be used for retail, with a plaza area in front.

Honoring the building’s past

During past meetings, Sobrato Senior Vice President Tim Steele said he wants the redevelopment to honor the cannery building’s past.

The oldest parts of the building were built in 1918 for the Bayside Canning Company, which was owned by canning mogul Thomas Foon Chew, a Chinese immigrant. After Chew’s death, Sutter Packing Co. took over and expanded the cannery site, becoming the Mid-Peninsula’s largest employer.

The cannery closed in 1949.

Sobrato’s proposed design echoes the distinctive roof shape of the cannery building. Visitors to the retail space would be able to look up through a skylight to see the building’s exposed wood truss ceilings. The retail space would also have photos of the cannery when it was in operation.


In connection with the $84 million project, Sobrato will pay $840,000 for public art through the city’s “percent for art” program.

The city’s Historic Resources Board and the Public Art Commission have suggested that public art at the site pay tribute to Chew and his role in furthering diversity.


  1. What about a “ one percent for homeless art” project? Pay homeless to make mixed media art comprised of basic roadside refuse not unlike trench art? The Yimbys feel good, the trash disappears, and homeless could finally afford “affordable housing”? Of course workers at target, Costco, Safeway and McDonalds won’t be able to afford it, at least not until they’re officially “ homeless”.

  2. Bring back MAXIMART (or, heck, even Fry’s…).
    More realistically(?), dechannelize Matadero Crick recreating a natural riparian habitat.

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