A glassy, three-story Mercedes dealership would go up next to the Palo Alto Baylands at the Embarcadero Road site of Ming's Restaurant under a proposal that the Architectural Review Board discussed Thursday morning.
The property at 1700 Embarcadero Road has long been considered as a possible site for a new extended-stay hotel, a project that had been approved several times by the City Council but that never came to fruition.
In April 2013, the council agreed to extend the application approval for the final time, an extension that stretched to November 2014. Even so, Ming's closed in December with the expectation that the property would be redeveloped for the hotel and a smaller version of the popular Chinese restaurant.
The construction of the new hotel was beset by delays that were tied to factors including weather and financing, property owner Vicky Ching told the Weekly before the closure. But with the most recent application approval now expired, the hotel project is "dead in the water," city Chief Planning Official Amy French told the architecture board Thursday.
"The entitlement process was completed with the council approval of the project, however because the building has not commenced that is no longer the viable project at the site," French said.
In the meantime, Ching has received an unsolicited offer to build a Mercedes Benz dealership at the site. No formal application has been submitted to the city for this project, but on Thursday the architecture board heard a presentation about the project and generally agreed that the site, which is in close proximity to Audi and Honda dealerships, is suitable for the proposed use.
Deeg Snyder, an architect with the firm Gensler, said the build design would adhere to the Autohaus style used by Mercedes for many of its dealerships, including the Mercedes Benz of Stevens Creek in San Jose. These exteriors have been influenced by Bauhaus design, which generally eschews ornamentation and promotes a tight link between form and function. In this case, the building would be predominantly glass and steel, Snyder said.
Snyder said Mercedes has been actively trying to pursue a project in Palo Alto for "a number of years" but the number of available sites has been limited.
The trend with designing dealerships these days is to go vertical, he said. Unlike the sprawling, low-lying facilities of the past, the one proposed for the 2.5-acre Ming's site would be three stories and have room for 125 spaces on its roof, according to concept plans obtained by the Weekly.
Overall, the site would include 293 parking spaces for cars, including 67 on the first level, 65 on the second and 36 on the third.
The architecture board had mostly positive things to say about the concept proposed by Mercedes. Chair Randy Popp said that of all the areas in the city, this is "the right place to put a project like this."
He called the proposal interesting and noted its "very urban design," though he also acknowledged that it would go into a "not very urban site, being next to the Baylands."
His colleagues generally agreed, with Vice Chair Robert Gooyer saying he "doesn't have a problem" with the proposed location for the new dealership.
Board member Kyu Kim noted that the Audi dealership and showroom is very close to the Ming's site, at 1730 Embarcadero Road. Anderson Honda is also nearby, at 1760 Embarcadero.
"I think it makes sense to have something like this because there are existing auto dealerships down the street," Kim said. "It's a handsome building. I can appreciate that Mercedes is taking this approach of Autohaus and going with the Bauhaus aesthetics."
Despite the initial enthusiasm from the board, the project still faces many hurdles, including formal reviews by the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council. The commercially zoned site would have to be rezoned to allow auto dealerships, a zone change that would also allow for a modest increase in density from the current use.