Burlingame looks to revamp downtown 

Burlingame’s countless parking lots — eyesores that cover nearly half the downtown’s surface area — could soon become blank slates for creative developers.

City officials hope to convert some 20 downtown lots into apartments, restaurants, gyms, performance spaces, boutique hotels or anything else that fits into the city’s plan.

“If you do satellite photo of Burlingame, you’ll see something like 40 percent of the land in the downtown area is at-grade parking,” City Councilman Michael Brownrigg said.

The city hopes to collect a number of creative proposals before Aug. 1 and to pick the winners by November.

“We’re leaving everything on the table in terms of where the developer interest may lie,” said community development director Bill Meeker.

Well, maybe not everything. The lots, which are scattered around the downtown area and cover some 500,000 square feet, are zoned for mixed-use or residential development, Meeker said. Developments should also follow the city’s specific plan for that neighborhood — most notably, they should provide a community benefit or
amenity.

Perhaps the trickiest part of the project is that developers will have to leave the number of existing parking spaces in the area constant. To do that, they might have to build underground parking lots, put their proposed building above an existing lot, or perhaps buy two lots  — one for their main development and another for a parking garage.

The city may or may not partner in paying for what goes onto the existing lots, depending on what’s proposed. The lots could be leased from the city or bought outright.

“This is part of a growth strategy of the city as a business,” Brownrigg said. “We have a structural budget deficit and we need to look more than a few months ahead of time.”

The parking lots, once developed, would establish entirely new sources of sales and property taxes for the city.

As nearby towns enhance their downtown areas, Burlingame — which currently collects nearly half its sales tax from outside its ZIP code — is hoping to keep up, said Brownrigg. “We can’t rest on our laurels,” he said.

Just last week, the City Council gave its preliminary approval to a plan in which it would swap parking lots with St. Catherine of Siena Church so the church can realize a decades-old dream of building an activity hall next to the church.

The city also is seeking developers for its ambitious Park Avenue plan, which would create a pedestrian promenade on the avenue.

nkyriakou@sfexaminer.com

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