Don’t bother rooting around online in search of wagering details, track layout or a stakes calendar for Bay Meadows.
You won’t find any of it.
Instead, you’ll find info about pop-up yoga sessions and an event called “Explore the World of Kale.” You'll find pictures of people with sleeve tattoos, pictures of people mounting fixed-gear bicycles and boarding commuter trains, pictures of people lugging around straw tote bags overflowing with fresh produce and grinning like they just won Powerball. You’ll find leasing announcements. You’ll find cupcakes. You’ll find artisanal coffee. You’ll find community.
Welcome to the new Bay Meadows.
In 2008, Bay Meadows Racetrack, a storied and very much old-school thoroughbred horse racing facility just south of San Francisco, was shuttered after nearly 75 years in operation. The iconic racetrack was subsequently demolished, grandstands and all, to make way for 1,066 new housing units for the rapidly growing city of San Mateo.
Bay Meadows Racetrack in 2006, two years before its closure. The fabled facility opened in 1934. (Photo: Erick Muñiz/flickr)
The fate of Bay Meadows Racetrack, once home to the legendary Seabiscuit, isn’t unique. The racing industry is in decline and it has been for some time. Prestige facilities such as Pimlico, Belmont, Saratoga and Churchill Downs remain largely immune to shifting public opinion on horse racing, industry infighting and the rise of casino-based gambling. However, long-standing racing venues like Bay Meadows haven't been so lucky. And in horse racing, you need all the luck you can get.
One by one, these once seemingly infallible sports facilities, unable to pack the stands quite like they used to, have been razed and, in the process, freed up large parcels of underutilized land in primo locations in the process.
And so, an increasingly common — and desirable — breed of infill project has emerged in recent years: the old horse racing track.
Across the country, you’ll find cookie-cutter housing developments, regional retail centers and mixed-use communities rising where fallen racetracks once stood. Last year, work commenced on Hollywood Park, a sprawling, 388-acre development on the site of what was once Los Angeles’ legendary thoroughbred racetrack. Beulah Park, outside of Columbus, Ohio, Garden State Park Racetrack in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and New York’s Parr Meadows are now — or will eventually be — home to mixed-used developments with an emphasis on high-density housing.
And then there’s Bay Meadows.
Trains, bike chains and not-too-many automobiles
Now roughly 35 percent complete after breaking ground in 2012, Bay Meadows strives to be different from other racetrack infill projects.
Flush with public green space and promoting car-free-ish living, sustainability is placed front and center at this 83-acre “mid-urban” infill development. Targeting family-forming millennials who crave the convenience and flexibility of urban living but are also seriously looking to put down roots, Bay Meadows, if anything, is certainly the only racetrack-replacing mixed-use development to bestow new homeowners with a bicycle as a welcome gift.
It goes without saying that walking, cycling and taking full advantage of the adjacent Caltrain commuter rail station is a way of life at this transit-oriented project (one of the largest in California) developed by Wilson Meany in conjunction with financial partner Stockbridge Capital.
A recent survey conducted amongst current Bay Meadows residents showed that 85 percent prefer to bike or walk when shopping or dining in the area. The development itself offers a network of dedicated bike and pedestrian paths while San Mateo, as a whole, is regarded as an exceptionally cyclist-friendly city.
Twenty-eight percent of Bay Meadows residents surveyed claim to commute via Caltrain on a regular basis while 50 percent ride it monthly. Replacing the shuttered Bay Meadows station, Hillsdale is one of three Caltrain stations in the city of San Mateo. Positioned roughly equidistance between San Francisco and the tech hubs of Silicon Valley, northbound local trains from Hillsdale station to San Francisco run about roughly 45 minutes (26 minutes on the Baby Bullet train). Southbound trains terminate in the southernmost section of the Santa Clara Valley in Gilmore.
Just across the tracks — and El Camino Real — from Hillsdale station is Hillsdale Shopping Center, the largest regional shopping mall in San Mateo County.
Brennan Brockbank and his husband, Josh, are a fine example of two Bay Meadows residents who embrace San Mateo’s half-way-ish locale on the Caltrain corridor. Toting a folding bike, Brennan takes the train south to his job as a science education leader in Mountain View (eight stations away) while Josh makes the daily commute north to his San Francisco office (nine stations away). It's a cozy little "dual-commute" set-up if there ever was one.
And yes, the couple — they moved to their Bay Meadows townhome in mid-2014 — still own a car … they just rarely use it. Says Brennan: “My husband and I have always been big on riding our bikes, but — now that we’re located so close to cafes and shops and right on the Caltrain line, there will sometimes be a week that goes by and I don’t have to get in my car. That’s a real joy!”
It's clear where Bay Meadows homeowners like Brennan and Josh are going to for work but where are they coming from to live?
As it turns out, it’s split pretty evenly: 30 percent surveyed are San Francisco refugees; 30 percent hail from the South Bay (Santa Clara, San Jose, Cupertino and other Silicon Valley communities); and 30 percent, including Brennan and Josh, moved to the development from within San Mateo County. The remaining 10 percent of new homeowners have relocated from further afield.
And on the topic of surveys, a quintet of LEED-certified office buildings offering a total of 780,000 square feet of commercial space along with 41,000 square feet of retail will be completed at Bay Meadows over the coming years. One building, the built-on-spec Station 4, is currently under construction and has already been fully leased to Palo Alto-based digital polling powerhouse SurveyMonkey with a June 2016 occupancy date.
Green digs for social butterflies
Designed by St. Louis-based mega-firm HOK Architects, the 210,000-square-foot Station 4 is strategically located across from the Hillsdale Caltrain station within the beginning-to-gain-a-pulse commercial heart of Bay Meadows, the Town Square.
Described as an “energetic and dynamic urban core” and a “destination for everyone to celebrate life in motion,” the European plaza-influenced Town Square will, when completed, feature a lively mix of retail and dining (“Boisterous sidewalk cafes!” Local artisan mercantiles!” A farmers market!) along with other amenities. And, as mentioned, Hillsdale Shopping Center is essentially right across the street ... and what more do young, upwardly mobile Bay Area residents need than a Trader Joe's, Nordstrom and an Apple Store? Not much.
Of course, every bourgeoning community also needs a main drag in which to see and be seen, right? At Bay Meadows, Delaware Street will serve this purpose and then some. To be eventually flanked by a biergarten, pop-up retail kiosks and outdoor fitness stations (residents and visitors can drink, shop and exercise but not necessarily in that order), Delaware Street will be the social hub of Bay Meadows.
Referring to Delaware Street as a “a long-term interim concept that uses a collection of activity and park spaces rather than business to create the neighborhood’s main street of social activity,” CMG Landscape Architecture goes on to detail the programming that Bay residents can expect in the not-so-distant future:
In a way quite similar to bustling commercial streets, locals might find themselves drawn to Delaware Street many times in a given week for a variety of destinations and reasons, sometimes even just to walk and enjoy the social context. Anchored by the Town Square on one end, the length of the street is programmed at its edges by a beer garden, event lawn, swing garden, ice cream stand, fitness lot, ping-pong park grove, bocce courts, tetherball park, volleyball, and barbecue court. Trees add dappled shade, pedestrian scale, ornament, and color to the sidewalk experience
On the residential side, four townhouse communities on the north end of Bay Meadows have already been completed (and quickly sold out) as has a fully leased, 108-unit luxury rental complex named Field House.
Selected as a green demonstration project by the San Mateo Planning Commission, Field House — located at 282 Pony Lane, by the way — scored an impressive 115 points in California’s Build it Green rating system. Most California jurisdictions consider 75 points to be roughly LEED Silver equivalent. Obviously, the bike ‘n’ rail-centric nature of Bay Meadows helped Field House comfortably shoot past LEED Silver equivalency as did an array of standard green building bells and whistles: high-efficiency lighting, Energy Star appliances, beyond-code insulation, water-saving fixtures and the list goes on. What’s more, 86 percent of construction waste generated in the building of Field House was recycled.
Two mixed-use apartment communities, Rendezvous and The Russell, both of which overlook the bustling Town Square area and are spitting distance from Hillsdale station, are also under construction with work on an additional townhome neighborhood to commence next year.
When completed, 15 percent of all available residential units at Bay Meadows will be sold below-market rate.
Goodbye golf course, hello edible communal garden
While much of Bay Meadows, particularly the mixed-use elements, is still in progress, one aspect of Bay Meadows that’s already fully wrapped up is parkland.
Comprising an impressive 20 percent (18 acres) of the development, there are a total of four distinct parks. Bay Meadows Park, a 12-acre multipurpose space with ball fields and picnic areas is a shoo-in for families as is the playground-heavy Paddock Park. The linear, park bench-lined Landing Green features a bocce court and “elegant pathways” and is described as Bay Meadows’ most “formal and contemplative space.”
Last but not least is Persimmon Park, a public art-studded community garden with 99 raised planting beds for resident use, orchards and an al fresco dining area that’s centered around a massive communal dining table. Standing in for the open space centerpiece of typical residential developments, the golf course, Persimmon Park is a “gathering spot that cultivates friendships along with bushels of organic and sustainable fruits and veggies.”
Described by Brockbank as a “place where neighbors catch up while they’re tending to their plot,” Persimmon Park also hosts monthly classes run by Homestead Design Collective. “Our master gardener Mike teaches everything from how to ferment things to creating cocktails with your garden harvest,” says Brockbank. “I love it that the classes are open to the general public and they’re free.”
While it wouldn't be completely accurate to categorize Bay Meadows as a proper agri-hood since it lacks a working farm, this rapidly blossoming urban village does come close.
In addition to Persimmon Park, a park where residents like Brockbank can "swing by [on my bike] to pick some fresh basil for dinner," Bay Meadows Park, the community’s largest, serves a purpose beyond outdoor recreation and communal gatherings: stormwater treatment and management.
Nestled between the park and the development’s main road is a large wetland area and stormwater pond that doubles as a wildlife habitat and a means of preventing localized flooding. All of Bay Meadows’ stormwater flows into the pond where it acts, in the words of CMG Landscape Architecture, as a “final filter” for runoff.
The wetland and stormwater system also serves a broader city benefit, absorbing here the flooding that happened previously in low lying lands of San Mateo two miles away. In the event of a major (5-year) storm event, the detention pond and community park holds excess stormwater, and then releases it slowly to avoid flooding downstream
The neighborhood’s streets are also lined with biofiltration planters that filter rainwater and runoff before it makes its way to the detention pond for re-filtering. Janice Thacher, a partner with Wilson Meany, describes the wetland pond as “as both an ecosystem for beneficial plants, birds and wildlife."
Located opposite Bay Meadows Park, stands the new 2.75-acre campus for the Upper School division of the Nueva School. The Leddy Maytum-designed building, opened to students at the start of the 2014 academic year, is also topped with a rooftop organic garden.
And they're (finally) off!
Needless to say, such a smartly planned, thoughtfully designed project didn’t rise in the place of the old Bay Meadows Racetrack over night.
The entitlement process, normally a complicated and drawn-out process to begin with, stretched out over seven years. The Silicon Valley Business Journal described the undertaking to get Bay Meadows off the ground as “epic.” The recession of 2008-2009 didn't help usher things along any quicker.
Naturally, alongside positive support came some local resistance. Nostalgic-types, some pushing for preservation, bemoaned the absence of the old racetrack while NIMBY-ists fretted over potential issues (traffic, density concerns) that come along with 1,000-plus new residents moving into such a quickly growing area. Aesthetics was also an issue in a pocket of San Mateo where the existing housing stock consists mostly of modest midcentury abodes.
Thacher, who is also leading Wilson Meany's redevelopment of the old Hollywood Park racetrack near Los Angeles International Airport, elaborates on the initial concerns:
“The project proposed benefitted from significant community input and incorporated solid feedback that we received through that process,” she explains. “Nonetheless, it represented a different style of housing than what had historically been built around it. Some groups were concerned about changing the fabric of San Mateo while others were concerned about the ramifications of height and blocked views or the potential impacts on traffic.”
Thacher goes on to note that the City of San Mateo Planning Commission and other local organizations threw their support behind the vision for a new Bay Meadows. As Thacher notes, “by design and location it embodies smart growth along the transit-corridor and there’s no question that we need growth to be able to accommodate housing for future generations.”
She adds: “Through the public process, we were able to understand those concerns and modify our initial plan to respond to those concerns and we truly believe the project is better for it.”
And one does wonder if the act of transforming California’s longest continually operating thoroughbred racetrack (an airfield before that) into a blank slate fit for redevelopment presented Wilson Meany with a host of unique infill challenges, at least from an environmental standpoint.
Turns out, not really.
“As far as projects of this size go, we were fortunate that the site wasn’t industrial or more built-out as the largest challenge was the demolition of the structure and water mitigation measures as we are fairly close to the Bay,” says Thacher. “Aside from the in-fields, there was a significant amount of concrete on-site that we ended up grinding and recycling for reuse in the existing sidewalks and streets at Bay Meadows.”
That being said, Bay Meadows, as most longtime San Mateo residents knew it, has completely vanished from the landscape.
However, nods to the parcel’s horseracing past are peppered throughout the development, largely though street and place names like Pony Lane, Paddock Park and Derby Avenue. A slew of the townhome-lined streets honor famous jockeys (Baze, Bisono, Olivares, Landeros, et al.) while one of the development’s main arteries, E. Kyne Street, is named after Bay Meadow’s founder, Bill Kyne. Racing paraphernalia is on display at Field House, giving the apartment building’s public areas a kind of high-end equestrian club vibe.
While Bay Meadows has a ways to go before crossing the proverbial finish line, the development has already been deemed a winner. Sales at Bay Meadows, a model of smart growth in a bursting-out-of-its-seams region that’s struggling to meet housing demand, are brisk to say the least. And while not exactly a fan of some of the development’s architecture, John King, urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, recently noted that at Bay Meadows, “density does not bring dystopia.”
This ambitious redevelopment's homestretch phase, with its town square, social street and shiny new office buildings, should be a thrill to watch.