Fed up venture capitalist Tim Draper on Tuesday threatened to move Draper University from San Mateo to Redwood City or Austin, Tex., after the San Mateo Planning Commission again rejected plans to make structural changes at the university building.
For four years, Draper says he has been planning to transition the seventh, eighth and penthouse floors at Draper University at 44 E. 3rd Ave. into office space. His vision includes filling the office space with venture capitalists and professionals who could inter-mix with the students at the school, which launched in 2012 with the aim of fostering successful future Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
As part of the project, he proposed constructing an elevator on the southeast side of the building providing separate access to those office floors from an indoor elevator used by students.
San Mateo Planning Commissioners rejected the plan in large part over perceived impacts an exterior elevator would have on the historic elements of the building, formerly the Hotel Benjamin Franklin. While the building dating back to 1926 is not currently listed on state or national historic registers, commissioners argue that a 1989 historic resource survey identified it as a contributor to the locally-designated Downtown San Mateo Historic District.
Draper lambasted commissioners over that outlook, saying he can no longer sustain operating in San Mateo. He said he invests $3 million into the city annually and makes no profit on the school, incubator and accelerator operating downtown.
“I am doing my best to bite my tongue here…you are going to have a ghost town on your hands, go ahead keep it all historic, no one will come,” Draper told the commissioners. “You can’t allow me to run my business and make this thing successful, if you’re not going to allow that, then I’m going to have to move, and if I move that means hundreds of thousand of jobs disappear from San Mateo or they go to Redwood City or somewhere else, Austin, Texas. I don’t think you are looking at this the right way.”
Draper said he’s been trying to make the project work for four years, including two years since they applied to build it, “and now you are just shutting us down.”
“What is this, what are you thinking?” he said. “Are you thinking, hell yes, San Mateo it’s a wonderful place, everybody is going to keep coming, let’s just keep these buildings the way they are? They’re not. They’re going to leave. Any of you guys want to buy the building? This is ridiculous.”
Earlier in the meeting, Draper said “we love what we had in this town, but we really do need to make the building more versatile for us so that it’s more flexible and we can do more with it.”
“It’s going to help the students, it’s going to help the economy, we’re going to have a lot more venture capitalists around, and we think it’s great,” he said, adding that he believes the planned elevator takes the building’s history into account, while also showing “we are a forward-looking city and this is a forward-looking building and it has the potential to be extraordinary.”
Photo credited to City of San Mateo