Bay Meadows plans off to the races

Architects went for broke on the new designs for the planned office buildings at Bay Meadows released Thursday, hoping that the curvy, modern edifices will be sexy enough for city officials — and hopefully to attract a Silicon Valley heavyweight.

The redevelopment would replace the historic Bay Meadows racetrack and drastically alter the face of San Mateo with condos, office buildings and retail stores — a boon for city coffers, but a tragedy in the minds of many residents, who would like to save the 74-year-old track where Seabiscuit raced and the photo finish was introduced. As proposed, the track will be transformed into 750,000 square feet of commercial space, 100,000 square feet of retail and 1,067 housing units.

“This is very exciting for us — we’re finally past all the planning and speculating, and now we’re talking about design work that’s actually going to get built,” said Keith Orlesky, director of design for the redevelopment. “It’s becoming a reality.”

And “reality” is something that city officials and the developer alike have been aching for, after spending the better part of the last decade trying to push the project forward amidst great controversy.

The track is in the midst of what’s slated to be its last season of racing, and last year, the city gave Bay Meadows Land Co. the approval to demolish the track and move forward with landscaping and infrastructure. The demolition is scheduled to begin in September, after the racing season and the annual county fair.

In the latest bend in Bay Meadows’ long and windy road toward existence, the developers will present the latest, redesigned plans for 14 of the site’s buildings Tuesday. The initial plans were presented to San Mateo’s Planning Commission in five study sessions last year.

Many of the criticisms levied at those plans were aimed at the five buildings intended to create an office campus that might lure a major company — a company perhaps on par with Google, Yahoo or Gap, Senior Planner Darcy Forsell said.

Commissioners derided the building’s plans for all looking the same, and asked the developers to come back with designs that “looked a little more exciting,” Orlesky said.

Since the last meeting in October, the team has invested more than a $1 million on the new designs and renderings that they started from scratch, he said.

That doesn’t impress project critics such as San Mateo resident Linda Lara, who has been involved with both Save the Bay Meadows and Friends of Bay Meadows, two groups who have fought the project on the basis that it will impose tremendous environmental and infrastructure strains on the city. Lara said the redevelopment disrespects an important part of San Mateo’s history.

“I don’t care what new designs they come up with because they’re all not good,” she said. “It needs to go back to the drawing board and stay there.”

kworth@examiner.com

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