Hotel’s future looking brighter 

Sale of landmark building not confirmed, but officials see potential for renovation

SAN MATEO — The historic Benjamin Franklin Hotel appears poised to be sold, and officials are hoping a new owner could bring a renovated, active boutique-hotel into the middle of downtown.

City and downtown leaders are hearing that the vacant hotel, a city landmark at 44 East Third Ave. since 1926, that was once surrounded by acres of grounds, has changed hands, but brokers are keeping mum until they close the sale.

"We’re hearing that it has been sold or is going to be sold," said Community Development Director Bob Beyer. "The top would be penthouses and the rest would be a hotel, but what features it would have, I don’t know."

United Airlines used the Benjamin Franklin Hotel to house its employees from the 1980s until the airline filed for bankruptcy in 2002. In 2005, the hotel became the site of a proposed 40-unit condominium development that was shelved during the pre-application process because the owners couldn’t meet city parking requirements, Beyer said.

A new hotel in the heart of downtown could further enliven the city’s main shopping district, said Kelly Mitter, director of the Downtown San Mateo Association. A hotel would require less parking than the previous condominium plan because a valet service could be used, Beyer said. A hotel would also bring valuable hotel-tax revenue into the city.

The Ben Franklin’s current owners, AF Evans, hired Colliers International Hotels this summer to put the 90-room hotel on the market, according to Bob Eaton, executive managing director for Colliers. Though Eaton would not say if the hotel has been sold, he said his agency is in active talks with several buyers.

"In all likelihood, there will be a new owner in 2007," Eaton said. "But in my business, nothing has happened until escrow closes and the money is wired in."

Colliers did not name an asking price when it offered the Ben Franklin, but sources close to the deal said it could be sold for approximately $10 million.

Downtown businesses are eager to see the hotel doing business again, according to Mitter.

"Having an economic area of this size and not having a hotelis not a good thing," Mitter said. "It’s an important thing to provide lodging for guests ... and the constant turnover of people is good for business — they’re going to restaurants, they’re going to Walgreen’s. It’s part of a healthy economy."

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Beth Winegarner

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