Grand plans for San Antonio shopping center

Prospective owner eager to bring new look to aging location

The developer in contract to buy 16 acres of the San Antonio shopping center released conceptual plans on Tuesday that promise a major urban redevelopment.

Merlone Geier Partners of San Diego plans to buy the corner property from the Thoits family and demolish Rite Aid, Burger King, Sports Authority and Sears to make way for construction that will double the density of a portion of the shopping center at El Camino Real and San Antonio Road.

Once built, the new shopping center, approached from the east along El Camino Real, will no longer present a vast parking lot and aging 1950s buildings. Instead, the area City Council members have called a "gateway" to the city will be transformed into a modern urban shopping center built out to the sidewalk, with a parking garage hidden behind the shops in the first of two floors.

"We would like to put the buildings up to the street and make it a more pedestrian-friendly area," said Mike Grehl, director of Merlone Geier Partners. "What we're proposing is to bring in a really modernized retail shopping center."

A second floor courtyard would run between two rows of buildings on the rectangular lot, and a bridge would cross over a driveway -- paved over the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct right of way -- and connect to another second floor courtyard in a similar set of buildings to the north.

Grehl said he had no idea whether authorities at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which controls the Hetch Hetchy right of way, will let Merlone Geier Partners build the bridge. "But that's what we would like to do."

As for the new stores, he said, space will be made for a mix of small boutique shops and large retailers at the site.

"There will probably be a grocery store, some service retail, boutique shops," he said. There will be "actual restaurants" along with some smaller food retail, like Quiznos or Starbucks. But he noted that so far, "We don't have tenants lined up."

A mix of materials will be used in the architecture, including stucco, glass, metal and wood.

Grehl said he is working with neighboring property owners who may also redevelop their portions of the 56-acre shopping center. Another major owner, San Antonio LLC, whose parcels include Trader Joe's, Kohl's (which replaced the bankrupted Mervyns) and Walmart, has asked the city to revise its precise plan for the center.

The city is also discussing the future of the shopping center as part of hearings to update the city's General Plan, a set of plans and policies to guide all future development in Mountain View.

Challenges for redeveloping the site include the fact that Walmart has a lease for over 50 years, and the fact that there are 16 property owners at San Antonio with staggered leases for each space.

"Working with the neighboring property owners and the city has been a pleasant process up to this point," Grehl said.

Home Depot was slated to take over the Sears property in 2007, but the City Council rejected that idea while expressing hopes that the shopping center would be redeveloped.

Numerous public hearings lay ahead for the project, which is only a concept at this point.


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Posted by Kelly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:21 am

As long as they keep enough parking!!

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Posted by Jeanne
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:29 am

Bring back the Menu Tree in this redevelopment!

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Posted by Traffic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:35 am

How will this impact traffic in Palo Alto? The Palo Alto City Council should also have a voice in this re-development plan. The city of Mountain View is too quick to approve this kind of project--look how quickly they put up that shopping center on Charleston Road near the 101 on ramp, without any regard yo how traffic at that location will affect Palo Alto.
This project is even bigger and is a perfect example for a "Palo Alto Process" type of vetting.

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Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

Why don’t we have a honest City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobby, Developer (Contractors) donate and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this “Redevelopment” except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not care about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities …..

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:47 am

Traffic -

I'm assuming that was a tongue-in-cheek comment.

The City of Mountain View has no reason to ask Palo Alto about anything. Especially since they provide most of our practical shopping for us since we can't seem to. They should be proud of how quickly the center on Charleston Road went up - we have only to drive down Alma or Embarcadero to see how decisive Palo Alto is...

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

Way to go Mt. View! What once was an island of PA and MP sitting between the creaky old RWC and MV. Has now become a perfect spot to go visit these two amazing towns. They both have a great forward looking view at what the citizens like to live with and what the business owners want to have nearby and active.
Palo Alto City Hall can learn alot from their neighbors. The council needs to look up and outside once in a while. They are not setting the bar for any other city, as they sometimes think they are.
A soapbox moment:
Almost every art gallery has fled Palo Alto, while rwc build a beautiful downtown and worked with it's citizens, in very generous ways, to help bring the arts to a very prominent space in town. Conversely, Palo Alto is trying to actively cut out the very soul of our town, grabbing at big dollars of high tech industry. Soon, this won't be "the" place to be in Silicon Valley.
Is there anyone else out there itching for a Town Hall Recall?

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Posted by Richard Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:02 am

I hope this doesn't come as a major shock to some Palo Alto residents, but our town, nice as it is,is NOT the navel of the universe. In regards to the proposed shopping center development there is no reason why Mt. View should be influenced by imposition of dreaded "Palo Alto Process" on its plans to make an old fashioned center more up to date,usefull for area shoppers,and better for its economy. Take a look at Mt. View - gorgeous civic center;state of the art library and bookmobile service; wonderful, clean, attractive Castro Street; well cared for parks and streets and a far more manageable budget than ours. Ditto for Menlo Park and Los Altos. Palo Alto government staff and council could do a lot worse than consulting with these local governments to learn how we too might "dress for success". Instead, the Palo Alto Process stopped the Stanford Shopping Center expansion dead in its tracks costing the town millions in current and future income; is quibbling over nits in regard to the proposed expansion of the Stanford Medical Center, to the glee and hopes of Redwood City couldcost us theloss of thie world class medical center; has driven the Alma Street project into decay; and may result in the loss of JJ&F market to, of all places, Mt. View. We quibbled for years and lost historic Ricky's and what would have been a lovely garden hotel with some residential, and got instead the instant tentament development fronting El Camino Real that has streets to narrow to meet fire safety and parking at the same time. So I say let Mt. View continue with their plans to upgrade their area, as they have done all along El Camino Real. I do intend to comment to the Mt. View council with some ideas re street front landscaping and such, and encourage other PA residents to do the same. My personal experience with the Mt View government so far has been positive and responsive, which is more than I can say for our own council and some staff.

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Posted by Traffic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

Yes, Palo Alto Mom, my comment was very tongue-in-cheek. It is ridiculous how quickly things get done in MV, while in PA Alma Plaza has been derelict for years and Edgewood Plaza is Alma Plaza Part 2.
It is very sad how little our city council actually accomplishes for the city (they accomplish plenty for themselves and are always patting themselves on the back for jobs well done). Instead of spending weeks lavishing praise on disgraced former employees, they should take their heads out of the clouds and focus on the city.

Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

I think this is wonderful. I live in PA, but almost always shop in MV--Costco, Milk Pail, Target, etc. Stanford shopping Center and downtown PA are too expensive for us "normal" folks. I was sorry to lose Mervyns---glad Kohls is going in there.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:24 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Let the owner do as he will with his property. As the Old Mill and others demonstrated, the customer has the final say. Planning contributes little if any.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:27 am

I agree that that the shopping in Mountain View is much more interesting than in Palo Alto. Mountain View has Asian markets, European markets, all price levels of stores, etc. Palo Alto stores are boring.

Like this comment
Posted by Nut Head
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:29 am

I'm excited to read this. That's one of my primary shopping destinations. It will be exciting to see this develop. I would love to see the California St. Safeway move into a nice, big, modern building like they have in Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:49 am

NO MENU TREE = NO PEACE. That's all there is to it.

Like this comment
Posted by Ex Mt. View Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

Great news! This shopping center was my life line when I lived in Mt. View and I still shop there even though I no longer live in the city. Thank G_D Bob Moss does not live in Mt. View, it would never get built.

Like this comment
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:05 pm

casey is a registered user.

Would love to see Fry's move to San Antonio. The current location is inaccessible.

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Posted by Fact Check
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Dear Mr. Placone,

Your statment is misleading. Hyatt Rickey's would NEVER have been developed as a "a lovely garden hotel with some residential" What was proposed was a 320 room hotel PLUS 302 housing units. There was almost no garden space to peak of. In fact, the EIR counted the limited green patches between parking spaces as "open space". THAT is the project that (appropriately) was the target of so much controversy. The projected transportation impacts of that project were not mitigable. The project that was approved (though I agree it is less than ideal) is 187 units...FAR smaller than what was proposed.

The hotel was dropped from the project when the bottom dropped out of the hotel industry after 9/11. A housing developer, DR Horton then moved inn with a new plan. The problem is the site was alternately zoned for housing, a more profitable use. That's a big problem with our current Comp Plan and zoning that needs correction.

I hope citizens are watching as the city currently is updating our Comp Plan and some zoning.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:10 pm

To Traffic
Why should Mtn View give a darn about PA's traffic concerns? PA didn't care about the impact to MP when they refused to allow Sand Hill to connect to Alma.

Way to go Mtn View, just make sure your traffic flows thru PA.

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Posted by shopdrop
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm

How many bicyclists know of the pedestrian/bike bridge over the creek at the end of Wilkie Way and connecting to Miller Ave. From there its a quick ride to San Antonio shopping heaven. I do that rather than brave Palo Alto's crowded downtown streets.
Palo Alto City Council has to start saying no to housing developers and streamline the use and building permit process for retail. Look at El Camino Real from Page Mill to San Antonio. Except for the new overpriced ghettos, the retail strip is a dreary reminder of the 1950's when Buicks had faux exhaust holes on the front fenders.
Gotta go make out my Trader Joes list. Mt. View, of course.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm

This is an example of a city actually facilitating new development for the betterment of the city and its tax base; this latter point cannot be underestimated in today's world. The re-development of this center is long overdue, and will be started and finished while PA fools around with Alma Plaza and Edgewood Plaza (and maybe the new JJF, which Mtn. View is courting).
Will this possibly impact traffic in PA? Probably, but deal with it. And maybe PA citizens and government can learn from this.

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Posted by curious
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm

What is "menu tree" Google is no help on this phrase.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:20 pm

I agree with shopdrop that San Antonio is an bike ride from much of Palo Alto. I hope that they have good bicycle parking.

It would be nice if Palo Alto added the bike route signs to direct bicycle traffic from the Bryant bicycle boulevard to the Wilkie Bridge.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Dithers
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:32 pm

This is great, Mountain View is definitely the City that knows how. MV grabs all the retail they can while Palo Alto dithers and prcrastinates. Meanwhile, the Stanford Shopping Center is not going to expand because there might be too much traffic!!!

Meanwhile, Mountain View is aggressivly pursuing JJ&F for another new development in the Downtown area.

Palo Alto has an employee whose title includes retail management. What does that person do? Why isn't Palo Alto agressivly developing the south Palo Alto commercial area bounded by Charleston, San Antonio, 101 and Charleston Plaza, this would be a great location for retail.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2009 at 12:46 pm

To all those Palo Altans worried about how this will impact traffic, it will impact it a lot as most of us Palo Altans will be driving to San Antonio to do our shopping.

It sounds great even though I will miss the Burger King with its nostalgic football motif which has been there for ever!

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Posted by Mtn Viewer
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2009 at 1:01 pm

The proposed plan is myopic in my opinion, not ambitious enough and will deliver only marginal improvement. We would be far better off if all the owners of the 56-acre came to an agreement about a unified redevelopment that included finding a different location for Walmart.

Incremental redevelopment will not make a big impact: if we can get everyone to agree and redevelop the entire area ala Santana Row, then that will be a step-function improvement in our quality of life.

Like this comment
Posted by foodie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2009 at 1:04 pm

The Menu Tree was a food court. In the 60's and 70's there were several in the area including one at the Stanford Barn.

Like this comment
Posted by OldPARes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Bring back something from the 60's and 70's? What else do you want -- disco?

Jeez. It's 2009.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2009 at 2:25 pm

This redevelopment should include consideration of the original Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory site (Web Link). These places are hugely important - even if we don't want to remember Shockley the man, his legacy to the semiconductor industry is something that should be preserved and turned into a museum or tribute the real birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm

John The Man,

I liked the Menu Tree too, but wasn't it the Health Dept. that shut them down?

Like this comment
Posted by MVer
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2009 at 2:48 pm

"...and may result in the loss of JJ&F market to, of all places, Mt. View"

Well as long as we can still buy our 6 packs of Bud and ciggies there, then bring it on!

Honestly, what kind of an elitist remarks was that? I welcome this JJ&F to Mountain View and think they will like it here. We are very enthusiastic shoppers, and can spend lots of money in less time, since we do it without any airs and graces.

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Posted by Traffic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I'll second MVer's remarks--MV has great grocery shopping opportunities. They have a large Whole Foods, a Ranch 99, a Nob Hill, a few large Safeways. They also have niche asian markets near Highway 85 and on Castro Street. They have a Trader Joes also. All PA has is small stores, that is why I do all of my shopping in MV.
Of course trying to build any decent sized grocery store in PA is a waste of time--neighbors and NIMBYists will complain about too much traffic or that the store is too big. The Architectural Review Board and the other commission sin town will give conflicting advise to the developer and the project will end up in the "PA Process" black hole. The City Council will not do anything to move things along since they are all thinking about their political futures and are afraid of upsetting people.
Looking forward to having JJ&F in MV.

Like this comment
Posted by I shop in Mountain View
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 9, 2009 at 4:44 pm

I'm excited that Mountain View is moving forward with a retail plan that does not include new obnoxious housing with private roads! It's grounded in reality, will probably get developed quickly, and only replaces businesses that really aren't getting a ton of business. I already go to MV for 24-hour Fitness, Safeway, Walmart, and Target, so if they can meet my other needs, then great! A few extra restaurants would be nice. We already patronize some of the local restaurants when we do extended shopping in MV, so a few more food options would be great.

Having said this, I do think that downtown Palo Alto is nice. If only Palo Alto had a big Safeway, then maybe I wouldn't be so excited about the plans in Mountain View.

Like this comment
Posted by MVer too
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Well, helloooo. Mountain View can "get things done" because the shopping areas don't abut cozy residential areas. Those of us who live in the apartments and townhomes near San Antonio knew when we moved in that there would be traffic, and the streets are built to accommodate it. Most Palo Altans think of their city as a bedroom community and as such will never favor commercial projects on the scale of Mountain View's.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2009 at 8:26 am

It makes too much sense to put major (including grocery) shopping at a transit center for the Palo Alto process to consider :/

Like this comment
Posted by Traffic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 10, 2009 at 8:50 am

Remember a few years ago this garden supply store (I think that is what it was) had to move and were planning to open in that industrial area off of San Antonio Road in Palo Alto. Of course, this being PA, there were objections from people, as usual.
Also note how quickly that KFC/Long John Silvers was opened on Charleston Road, right down from the PA border. In PA neighbors would have objected to the traffic, would have objected to the delivery tricks, would have objected to the potential cooking odors and it would still be in the planning process, scheduled for a 2020 completion.
What a difference a few meters make!!!

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Posted by around here
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 10, 2009 at 9:21 am

The KFC was far from quick. That lot was a boarded up diner for years.

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Posted by Traffic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 10, 2009 at 9:28 am

It was quick. The KFC used to be on the corner where the JCC is being built. There was no need to build it until the other one closed.
The question really is was anything planned for the boarded up diner and was the planning held up for years by the city of MV? I doubt it.

Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2009 at 10:43 am

What's the problem to drive to MV? 10-15 minutes? What are you all complaining about? I vote for more houses...

Like this comment
Posted by MV Envy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2009 at 1:21 pm

All of this Mountain View envy is pathetic.

Palo Alto was in a very different stage of maturity than Mountain View when the true Prop 13 effects kicked in. Palo Alto lacks the space for creating shopping mall filled with economically efficient big box stores. If you shift your revenue source emphasis from property tax to sale tax, you need to generate some sales. Sorry, law firms don't generate sales tax. Rezoning the industrial park to promote businesses that generate sales taxes would be nice, but virtually impossible.

Unless PA learns to lower its expenses, there is little choice but to change the local tax structure.

Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jul 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm

The better way to bike there is to follow the bike boulevard under the tunnel to the HP campus, cross alma and go under the train station. Then head up to whatever part of mtn view is up there.

Anyway, reading about how Palo Altans envy Mtn. View is pretty sad. I find no reasons to go to either city unless necessary. In fact the whole silicon valley is pretty boring, filled with folks who have trouble with everyday human tasks, such as being quiet in librarys and theaters, driving without hitting objects, purchasing items without throwing a fit or claiming total noncomprehension, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Tony
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2009 at 7:56 am

What I want to know is why this showed up as being in San Antonio, TX. Took me a while to figure it out since I did not know what part of town this is in. Someone thought it was here in San Antonio and it showed up as new San Antonio local news headline on

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Posted by Native
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I like the idea of more shopping so nearby. It's practically in Palo Alto's backyard.

Like this comment
Posted by King Midas
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 16, 2009 at 7:08 am

Let me see...... Palo Alto not enough tax revenue. Palo Alto not enough places to shop.... Palo Alto always wanting to do in the car and peoples freedom. Palo Alto wasting money and time on silly green ventures that will NEVER pay off.....

Mountain View needs more tax revenue.... What happens, a developer knows he can plan and produce and achieve within the scope of the known rules of the city of Mountain View. The developer comes up with a plan to TRIPLE the number of cash registers to take in more taxes.

Voilà - the people win with more options to purchase items, the city wins with more taxes, the county wins with higher property tax revenue, and the developer wins with a return on their investment.

What do the people of Palo Alto do? They get in their car and come to this NEW place and leave their money in Mountain View.

What is the lesson?
Thanks a million you Palo Alto whiners.

Like this comment
Posted by JM
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 10, 2009 at 7:55 pm

There is so much litter along Showers by Walmart. The parking lot around Walmart and Pho. Cigarette butts clustered and ground into the dirt. Plastic bags and plastic hangers that people dump in the parking lot. I guess this is how they were raised. The problem is the bags, cigarette butts etc. enter the water streams. Even if dogs chew the plastic, it gets stuck in their intestines and they starve to death or need medical care. You don't care about the environment? That is fine but it does come around to you eventually. The drinking water, what you ingest in your food, the air you breathe.. its all connected. The neighborhood looks slummier.

Like this comment
Posted by Nimbyists unite
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2009 at 8:46 pm

This may create too much traffic in palo alto. We need tomobilize the usual gang of obstructionists and nimbyists-- Deborah ju, carlin Otto, Doug moran, Len fillpu, jay hammer, bob moss and herb borock-- to stop this project.

Like this comment
Posted by Karen
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 4, 2009 at 11:04 am

JM is right. Showers is a dirty area.
The abandoned DMV building and what used to be Bazaar, then Gemco now Target should go. Filthy and dangerous.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2009 at 8:40 pm

The "abandoned DMV building" is not abandoned. It's being used for commercial DMV purposes. Did you ever see all the truck driving schools certifying drivers there?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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