Tim Draper threatens to move Draper U. from San Mateo to Redwood City

Tim Draper threatens to move Draper U. from San Mateo to Redwood City

in Community/Education/Infrastructure

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


  1. The City should support Mr Drapers plans to update the building and bring née life to our downtown. The placement of the elevator makes sense and adds value to the building !

  2. Historical preservation is fine, but cities are inherently dynamic had have to adjust to change. If you freeze them in amber they’re not cities, only museums.

  3. The beautiful city of San Mateo is a hodgepodge of design. Draper U was giving me hope that there was a future for the young in a cute old building. Why not let them continue to bring life to the citu

  4. It is so difficult to work with San Mateo building and planing department. They demanded an Archatict drawing of the building only to replace the windows like for like. I had to spend over $10K for a drawing in addition to neighborhood meeting and mailer, copies, half of the mailers were returned because they don’t have an old and outdated mailing list, waist of time and money, only to replace old 100 years old and broken windows like for like, and a much better wood Marvin windows, they Prefer to keep old ugly windiws than doing an improvment. It took over six months, with so many ch paper work to complete and several sets of copies to submit, all that’s besides the cost for the permit and historic approval and fees. They make it so complicated and costly for property owners. It was a nightmare.
    With all their restriction, San Mateo will never be Burlingame or Palo Alto, or even Redwood City is looking better than San Mateo. If they only make it less complicated San Mateo will be enriched and beautiful.

  5. It’s soooo frustrating to know that a few people in the commission is ruining the town. The City is evolving and many new modern building are going up. The oldest generation who enjoyed the city as is are the ones having issues with it. The generation that actually is taking part of community is who we should be thinking about. The building is probably the ugliest building in the City. I own many commercial building around Draper and to see this is sad. I had to deal with the City because they did not want me to double painted windows to my historic building. I really hope that a new group of people come in who can respect the past but at the same time have a better vision of the future steps in. It’s soo sad knowing if he is gone then it’s going to be worse for all the mom and pops in the area. San Mateo City commission is absolutely the worse group.

  6. It’s seems that if Tim Draper’s concept of having an elevator in the building and if it can be made to appear like part of the original structure then “full steam ahead”! I’ve stayed as a guest of the Ben Franklin many times and since it was closed as a hotel I was saddened but if it can still have a useful purpose as a school and for other uses then the commissioners should say yes to this. As Draper has said, that sooner or later San Mateo will become a ghost town if it isn’t willing to accept some change. If the city isn’t willing to bend a bit it will break!

  7. I think Tim is well intentioned, and the jobs and business he brings downtown are certainly appreciated, but his hyperbolic language (i.e. ‘hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost’) and threats, as well as the general perception of him as a megalomaniac, make it difficult for our elected officials. I have dealt extensively with the city inspectors, and engineers, and they are reasonable folks who are there to help. However, I agree, the cost of doing business with the city is excessive.

  8. I support the commissioner. Draper University is the reason why I cannot find a parking space in that area.

    Down town San Mateo will continue to be an attraction with or without Draper University.

    It will never be a ghost town. There is always an interested party to take over the building.

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