SAN MATEO -- Venture capitalist Tim Draper has spent more than $20 million to open a school for entrepreneurs that's enlivened a faded block in downtown San Mateo, but officials say the institution has lagged in fulfilling some of its development agreements.
The city rushed last year to approve temporary certificates of occupancy for the school, the Draper University of Heroes, which welcomed its inaugural class in April, but several elements of the project are still unfinished, according to a staff report. The problems include ground-floor pop-up retail spaces that remain largely vacant and landscaping in a public walkway that falls short of the city's expectations.
Ken Jillson, head of development for Draper University, said the school, which begins its fourth quarterly session Monday, has begun addressing the concerns. He acknowledged some aspects of the project proved more difficult and time-consuming than he had anticipated.
"We've done an incredible amount of work in a short period of time," said Jillson. "And we're really at the point now where we're dotting the final I's and crossing the final T's."
Councilman David Lim said he has received more than a dozen complaints from the public, much of it warranted, but some of it stemming from wariness of Draper's unorthodox vision. The council will discuss the issue Tuesday.
"People do have a legitimate reason to have complaints," said Lim, adding, "We would like all our community members, including Mr. Draper, to be neighborly. And I think for the most part he has been."
One of the top complaints has to do with the former Collective Antiques building, located across Third Avenue from the university, which occupies the former Benjamin Franklin Hotel. The Tudor-style structure -- whose initial title, the Collective Entrepreneurs Club, has been ditched in favor of the splashier Hero City at Draper University -- will serve as an incubator space for Draper University graduates and local entrepreneurs.
The city fast-tracked a temporary occupancy permit for Hero City, partly so Draper could hold a block party in October celebrating its grand opening. But Hero City remains mostly unpopulated. More important, from the city's perspective, only one of three storefronts that are meant for pop-up displays is in use, and it contains Draper University merchandise.
Jillson said the university hopes to have all of Hero City up and running soon, but it has not established a target date.
In winning city approval, the school pledged to improve and maintain a public walkway that runs between Third and Fourth avenues to the east of the old hotel. The university has upgraded the area significantly, but the landscaping falls short in a couple of areas -- it does not include a "living wall" on the hotel exterior, for instance, as detailed in plans for the site. Jillson said consultants advised against the wall of plants, because it could damage the old building, and the school will work with the city to come up with a suitable alternative.
The upgrades to the walkway had the unintended consequence, Jillson noted, of encouraging more people to gather there and smoke. That generated another complaint from the public: cigarette butts littering the ground. The university has since installed three ash bins, said Jillson, adding school leaders remain committed to a strong partnership with the city.
"We're expecting this," he said, "to be a huge success."
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.
What: San Mateo City Council study session
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo
Why: Complaints regarding Draper University's progress