Weeks after leasing a San Francisco high-rise, LinkedIn Corp. is now planning a massive expansion in its hometown of Mountain View.
The company is working with two landowners there on projects that could expand its footprint by hundreds of thousands of square feet and add thousands of employees to the city’s booming North Bayshore district.
LinkedIn, the biggest social network for professionals, and its partners want to redevelop a portion of the company’s current campus along Stierlin Court with up to 800,000 square feet in a first phase. In addition, LinkedIn wants to build up to 685,000 square feet on a roughly 7-acre parcel across from the Computer History Museum.
The plans signal a major real-estate shift for LinkedIn. Only two years ago, the company — hemmed in by Google’s growth in Mountain View — inked the region’s biggest lease of 2012 for a 600,000-square-foot Sunnyvale campus that is now nearing completion. Since then, LinkedIn has made a big move into San Francisco. And recently, LinkedIn has quietly put out word that it would consider subleasing several of its buildings in Sunnyvale.
“Due to LinkedIn’s success and explosive growth, but constrained by the amount of office space available to us locally, we have had to expand outside of Mountain View – most recently signing leases and occupying space in both Sunnyvale and San Francisco,” James L. Morgensen, LinkedIn’s head of Global Workplace, wrote to city officials in a letter. “However, it has always been our desire to retain our headquarters in the North Bayshore area and to remain a high value Mountain View-based company.”
The projects are still in the very early stages. LinkedIn and its developers have submitted so-called gatekeeper applications to the city, which ask permission for city planning staff to process a formal development application. Such proposals can take months or even years to wend through the approval process.
“At this point, they’re just looking for the city council to say, ‘Yes, you can enter the development process,'” said Randy Tsuda, community development director for Mountain View. “At the end of May is when they can get through the door to start the process.”
It’s unclear whether council members will allow the projects to move forward at their May 27 meeting. The Mountain View council has been increasingly skeptical about moving forward more office in the North Bayshore jobs district before a new “precise plan” outlining land-use changes is complete later this year. That plan could allow up to 3.4 million square feet of net additional office space in the area. In addition, several council members have raised growing concerns about approving new office throughout the city given existing traffic congestion.
LinkedIn’s applications are just two of seven submitted gatekeeper requests, which are heard by the city council every quarter. They include a proposal for about 150,000 square feet of office space from storied Silicon Valley developer Carl Berg‘s Berg & Berg Enterprises Inc.; a redevelopment of a tilt-up business park from The Sobrato Organization;and the redevelopment of a 5.45-acre site from Broadreach Capital Partners. (I’ll have more on the other gatekeeper projects later this week.)
City council member Margaret Abe-Koga told me this afternoon that she was inclined to look favorably on LinkedIn’s plans.
“I’m excited that LinkedIn wants to stay and expand in Mountain View,” she said. “I believe we should have diversity in terms of our business mix. So I’m glad they’re making plans to try to stay and be able to make the land they can get work for them.”
LinkedIn, which declined to comment to me beyond the public documents it has submitted to the city, is working on two tracks for its Mountain View expansion.
One would redevelop portions of the 767,000-square-feet Britannia Shoreline Technology Center, which is mostly older, low-density, tilt-up buildings. LinkedIn currently occupies about 370,000 square feet in six buildings there. LinkedIn and Britannia’s owner, the publicly traded real estate investment trust HCP Inc., say the entire 51-acre site could be redeveloped to include up to 1.9 million square feet of office space under one option being considered as part of the city’s new precise plan for the area. But the companies are proposing developing the campus’s eastern side first. That initial phase would be 700,000 to 800,000 gross square feet.
At the same time, LinkedIn is also partnering with Rubicon Point Partners and the Lester family, which has long owned the highly visible 6.7-acre site at 1400 N. Shoreline Blvd. across from the Computer History Museum. One of the first business parks in Mountain View, it’s currently home to a few small businesses including a Gold’s Gym and Laser Quest, and is considered ripe for redevelopment.
According to a letter from local architect Kenneth Rodrigues, the project could include up to roughly 685,000 square feet of office space and retail and be built in a single phase for LinkedIn.
“Given LinkedIn’s desire to occupy the entirety of 1400 N. Shoreline, this project will serve for the city both a ‘signature headquarters site’ worthy of a high-caliber, civic and environmentally-oriented company and a ‘gateway’-notable project, in line with the city’s goals and objectives…” Rodrigues said in the letter.
“What you have is a great site on the freeway, with very good visibility,” he said. “It’s definitely a gateway location. And it’s one of the original business parks in Mountain View.”
In a letter, LinkedIn said it is aware that city officials won’t accept new applications prior to the completion of the precise plan, but the company wants to begin working with staff now to prepare a plan that meets the adopted plan. “We anticipate that we will be ready to submit a formal application at such time that the city determines it is ready to accept it,” Morgensen said.
Abe-Koga said she felt the precise plan process was far enough along to warrant approving LinkedIn’s gatekeeper requests, given that the applicants have pledged to abide by the new rules, such as reducing single-occupancy car trips by 45 percent. Still, she worried about the possibility of overbuilding.
“My concern is, sure, we have to allow for more development because all these companies what to grow, but what’s the limit?” she said. “Because at some point that’s going to change the character of that area and then we become just like any other office park and any other city.”
LinkedIn will not discuss its plans for the Sunnyvale campus, being built by Kilroy RealtyCorp., beyond saying that it does intend to grow there. Beeger said LinkedIn’s decision to focus its growth in its hometown and perhaps not occupy all of its Sunnyvale campus could reflect a desire to remain in their Mountain View “comfort zone.” Indeed, he said there would be plenty of other tenants who would be interested in taking over space in Sunnyvale should LinkedIn offer it to a user. Numerous other companies have been growing in Sunnyvale, including Apple Inc. and Google Inc.
“It’s not that they’re going to an inferior location and real estate,” he said, referring to the Kilroy site. “It’s just the whole environment they would be going away from.”