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Google’s huge vision and breadth of projects make it Silicon Valley’s Developer of the Year


Google’s huge vision and breadth of projects make it Silicon Valley’s Developer of the Year

By Troy Wolverton, Silicon Valley Business Journal Sep 23, 2021, 8:00pm EDT

If Google LLC’s merits as a developer were judged solely by what it’s actually completed building, it wouldn’t rate much of a mention.

The only ground-up project the Internet giant has finished is a modest building in Sunnyvale it completed in 2017 that functioned as a test-case for its development ideas and now serves as the home for its real estate team. Other than that structure, all of its other developments are either still under construction or potentially years away from even beginning. And some of its biggest projects are more dream than reality at this point.

But, boy, what a dream the company is offering.

If Google realizes its vision — and it took some huge steps in that direction over the last year — it could help transform Silicon Valley from a spread-out, car-centric suburban landscape of strip malls and office parks into a collection of dense, urban-oriented communities full of thriving restaurants, stores and workspaces, all within walking distance or a short train ride from residents’ homes.

“Their vision is very forward looking,” said Larry Siegel, the former mayor of Mountain View, who worked with the company during his time on the City Council there.

Google’s plans — which include its massive Downtown West project in San Jose as well as two large developments in Mountain View and another nascent one in Sunnyvale — are “revolutionary,” Siegel said.

Its projects “could be a model for how the Bay Area addresses our housing and transportation crisis,” he said.

Google has big plans and lots of in-progress projects

But it’s not like the company is only offering pie-in-the-sky plans, however far along they may be. It has some eight buildings under construction in Silicon Valley, six of which are slated for completion next year.

The buildings Google has built and that it has in progress” are beautifully done. They work really efficiently. They have definitely delivered what they said they would,” said Kelly Snider, a real estate professor at San Jose State University. She continued: “They are very good at establishing what their product is going to be … and then building it quickly.”

As innovative and impressive as its completed and in-progress buildings are, Google’s future plans are what make it stand out from the pack.

You don’t have to look any farther than Downtown West to get a sense of what the company has in the works.

Over a period of several years, Google assembled some 80 acres of properties around San Jose’s Diridon Station, then worked with city officials and community leaders to develop a plan for the site that would meet its needs, fit in with the city’s plans for the area, and address residents’ concerns about the project’s impact. The result is almost mind-blowing in its scale and ambition.

The company plans to take a collection of parking lots, run-down industrial buildings and older houses, and create a whole new transit-oriented neighborhood over the next 10to 30 years. After nearly four years of development and 19months of consideration, the City Council approved the plan in May.

San Jose’s downtown has long been a quiet place compared to the bustling downtowns of San Francisco and other cities.

For decades, the city’s leaders have sought to revitalize it with only modest success. Downtown West could help the city’s center finally become a thriving urban village, saidMayor Sam Liccardo.

“It really helps us fulfill our longtime aspirations forDowntown, to transform a place that had been built for automobiles into a city built for people,” Liccardo said.

Downtown West is already transforming San Jose

Even though Google likely won’t start its initial construction work on the project until next year at the earliest, Downtown West has already had a beneficial effect on the city, he said. Developers including Urban Community, Urban Catalyst and Jay Paul Co. have a slew of downtown office and residential projects in the works, some designed by world-class architects, that are already starting to revamp the city’s center.

When Google made its commitment to the city, it”dramatically changed the orientation of many investors locally and globally toward our Downtown,” Liccardo said.

But Downtown San Jose isn’t the only area Google is looking to transform. It has similar plans for two different areas in Mountain View, with projects at North Bayshore and in the East Whisman neighborhood. And it’s got another one in the planning stage for an area in north Sunnyvale where it’s already building a cluster of office structures.

The North Bayshore and East Whisman projects “are really important to Mountain View’s future,” said Mayor Ellen Kamei. “What we’ve seen” from Google, she continued, “is that they’re thinking about all of their holdings and how do they make them vibrant mixed communities.”

Google’s myriad Silicon Valley developments come as other big tech companies have moved their headquarters out of the region or decided to focus their expansions elsewhere. They also come as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies to rethink their office needs. Google itself has postponed the full reopening of its offices until next year and plans to allow nearly all its employees to work remotely at least part-time afterward.

But the company is committed to the Bay Area and is eager to expand its presence here in a way that helps to build and sustain vibrant, environmentally-oriented communities, said Joe Van Belleghem, Google’s global ground-up development lead.

“We’re proud to call the Bay Area home,” Van Belleghem said in an email. “It’s an innovation and entrepreneurship hub, and we’ll continue to grow where the talent exists, where our employees want to live, and where we’ve been a part of the community for decades.”

It takes a few villages

Google isn’t just interested in offices. It’s developing a collection of live-work-play communities in San Jose,Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The furthest along:

Downtown West: The biggest of them all, this plan approved by the San Jose City Council in May spans 80acres near Diridon Station and the SAP Center. It could eventually include 7.3 million square feet of office space, as many as 5,900 new homes, retail, restaurant and community space, parks, and its own utility plant that would help serve the surrounding area.

North Bayshore: Near Google’s headquarters, the company plans to replace about 1.7 million square feet of office space with 3 million square feet of new space. The structures would be a part of a larger walkable, bikeable community that would have as many as 7,000 new homes.

Middlefield Park: In Mountain View’s East Whisman neighborhood near an existing light-rail station, the company plans to build 1.3 million square feet of office space, up to 1,900 new homes, 12 acres of open space and50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Bay View: The company is constructing three buildings on a 42-acre site at NASA Ames Research Center. The two office structures total 1.1. million square feet and are topped with arching roofs comprised of sail-like panels.

Charleston East: Less than a mile due west of Bay View and next to Google’s headquarters is this 595,000-square-foot building. It shares much with Bay View’s structures, including a swooping roofline covered with solar panels and an open interior that’s designed to be easily reconfigurable.

1265 Borregas Ave.: In north Sunnyvale, Google is at work on one of the first mass timber buildings to be built in theBay Area. Google is using the building as a potential model for future projects.

Full article by Troy Wolverton: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2021/09/23/structures-awards-google-lays-out-its-huge-vision.html