Wells Fargo site, long empty, suffers another setback

The long-empty Wells Fargo site, which was set to become a major downtown destination, suffered another setback when the two-year agreement between the city and a developer lapsed on Aug. 21.

The city council this week officially acknowledged the end of the agreement with CHS Development Group of San Mateo, which had plans to turn the site into a mixed-use building with condominiums and retail space.

The city bought the 7,500-square-foot property at 470 San Mateo Ave. more than a decade ago, hoping to turn it into an anchor for downtown, City Manager Connie Jackson said. A Wells Fargo building that used to sit on the property was torn down about six years ago, but the site has remained empty ever since.

The process started moving forward in 2004, when the city asked any interested developers to propose ideas for a mixed-use development. CHS was chosen as the prime candidate, but various roadblocks popped up along the way.

In 2005, the city had to review its height ordinance to make sure the project was in compliance. The city also had to determine the legal requirements regarding the sale of a nearby public parking lot, which was to be incorporated into a development, according to a staff report.

An appraisal valued the former Wells Fargo portion and parking lot at a combined $2,750,000.

Councilman Jim Ruane said the city recently gave CHS extra time to negotiate a better agreement. But the company moved too slowly, he said, and the agreement lapsed. CHS representatives could not be reached for comment.

Ruane doesn’t expect to start over, because the city is armed with the parking information and environmental assessments gathered during the CHS process. The city staff will likely take the information they have and bring the issue back to study session, Jackson said.

“It’s such a high-profile spot,” Ruane said. “It’s definitely one of my top priorities to get something going there sooner rather than later.”

A number of residents and business owners agree. For resident Alice Barnes, the empty site represents years of unrealized revenue potential. For Harry Costa, owner of Just Things at 575 San Mateo Ave., it’s a missed opportunity to get more visitors downtown.

“It’s a shame it’s been sitting there empty,” Costa said.

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