A San Francisco startup with roots in engineering and architecture plans to take temporary office space mainstream.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JULY 2015
By David Goll[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust as car sharing has changed the way people move around congested cities like San Francisco with greater economy, founders of Campsyte Inc. hope the emerging concept of land sharing will boost the economy of the City by the Bay, filling its vacant, unproductive lots with temporary buildings generating revenue for landowners, occupants and city officials alike.
Officials of San Francisco-based Campsyte, founded in January of this year, want to build small, temporary structures out of recycled shipping containers to place on open parcels or parking lots awaiting the construction of permanent buildings. The structures could provide more affordable space for startups, offices, creative businesses or retail shops struggling to gain a foothold in pricey San Francisco.
The use of former shipping containers—considered an affordable, environmentally friendly building material—is growing in popularity for both commercial and residential structures, especially in Europe, but increasingly in North America, as well. There are estimated to be about 17 million steel intermodal containers in use for shipping worldwide, ranging in size from eight to 56 feet in length, and eight to nearly 10 feet in height. Starbucks has built a handful of its coffee shops out of the containers.
[quote]”Through this land-sharing type of platform, landowners will have new buildings on their property, enabling them to generate income.” Alex Lee, co-founder of Campsyte[/quote]
“These spaces would be geared to startups and small businesses,” said Alex Lee, one of Campsyte’s co-founders and its vice president of sales. “Many times a small business can’t afford to rent 20,000 square feet of space, but they can deal with a 1,000-square-foot space. It can be very hard for small companies to find small spaces.”
Campsyte will build the modular and temporary structures at a local plant, then handle installation and property management duties. Lee said local neighborhoods will be revitalized when vacant lots are transformed into usable space for businesses. He said Campsyte is seeking sites where they will work within existing zoning designations to accommodate the temporary buildings.
“We are being choosy,” Lee said, adding that Campsyte officials hope to eventually expand operations outside San Francisco.
Campsyte’s first project will materialize in the fourth quarter of this year in San Francisco’s Central South of Market district, when the company plans completion of a three-level, mixed-use temporary building housing offices, food vendors and ground-floor retail made of shipping containers, Campsyte officials said.
Lee was joined in establishing Campsyte by Dennis Wong, who serves as CEO, and Allen Wong, chief marketing officer. Thirty years ago, Allen Wong said the group pooled their resources to purchase a then-new San Francisco firm AGS Inc. Since then, they have expanded the company to provide geotechnical, environmental, civil and structural engineering services. Dennis Wong still serves as senior principal of AGS.
Allen Wong said the group’s familiarity with architecture and engineering, city planning procedures, planning the downsizing of their own office space at AGS and interest in sustainable building practices led them to establish Campsyte.
“We plan to revitalize many infill lots in San Francisco, either those not in use or just being used for parking at the present time,” Lee said. “Through this land-sharing type of platform, landowners will have new buildings on their property, enabling them to generate income.”
Besides providing activity on unused spaces where permanent development is going through the planning process, temporary structures can increase the attractiveness of lots to potential buyers.
“It’s a plus-plus for landowners,” Lee said.
As evidence of their viability in San Francisco, Lee touted a local shipping container project already operating—The Yard, a $2.5 million assemblage of retail, dining and beverage venues including The North Face, a Peet’s Coffee & Tea shop and a beer garden operated by Anchor Brewing Co. on a former parking lot at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Open since March, The Yard is a temporary, sustainable placeholder for a larger, permanent development at Mission Rock, according to Staci Slaughter, vice president of communications for the San Francisco Giants, the owner of the development, which is under some scrutiny at the moment and may go on the ballot later this year. The 28-acre Mission Rock development is planning to feature parks, housing, office, retail and serve as a community gathering spot for local residents.
“We viewed this as an opportunity to create a mini-hub, an example of what is to come to local residents and our fans,” Slaughter said. “It has been very popular. It’s always packed.”
Slaughter said The Yard’s recycled shipping container construction was an appealing aspect of the project for the Giants. It also mirrored a similar temporary development constructed in the Hayes Valley district after the damaged Central Freeway was torn down following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Slaughter added she also saw a larger example of such temporary shipping container retail center construction on a recent visit to Christchurch, New Zealand, which suffered major damage from a 6.3 temblor that hit in 2011.
Jim Beeger, a senior vice president with real estate brokerage Colliers International in San Jose, said though shipping container construction does hold a trendy, cutting-edge appeal, he doubts it will become commonplace.
“The containers are small, not inexpensive, and you have to do a lot of construction to make them suitable for commercial use,” he said. Most containers are less than 400 square feet. “You’re taking what’s essentially a metal box and trying to turn it into a jewel box. The end result can be cool, attractive and fun, but I think they have limited application.”
Photography by Laura Kudritzki, rendering courtesy of Campsyte