For San Francisco is the Amenity

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Salesforce Tower San Francisco real estate The Registry

By Neil Gonzales

In 2012, the cloud-computing giant abruptly dropped its plans to build a sprawling campus in Mission Bay along San Francisco’s periphery. The company has never publicly given a clear explanation for the decision, but at the recent Worktech 14 West Coast conference in the city, a Salesforce executive shed some light on the matter.

[contextly_sidebar id=”N9sl832HROvV52NOSXyQDVO11yNEp6Pv”]“We realized that while it’s great being in the city, [Mission Bay] wasn’t really in the heart of the city where all the activity was,” Ford Fish, Salesforce’s senior vice president of real estate, told a packed crowd. “So we were going to kind of have to build our own city. We were actually going to build a town center with all the shops and stores and everything. That was a bit problematic. Not that we couldn’t, but why build it if it’s already in the city?”

So the company has since turned its eyes toward the downtown core of the city, planning to build a massive multibuilding campus around the Transbay Transit Center that would include the 61-story Salesforce Tower at Mission and Fremont streets—slated to be San Francisco’s tallest structure upon its scheduled completion in 2017.

The firm’s new global headquarters is seen as a future model for urban corporate development that takes advantage of the amenities that are already available in the city center and that appeal to today’s workforce.

“Being in the cities offers so many rich amenities in terms of the restaurants, shops, art and all the diverse culture,” Fish said. “So we don’t need to duplicate that. We try to provide a wide range of work formats for people” such as different-sized meeting areas, spaces without technology or a meditation room.

Salesforce is focused on cities because “that’s where our customers are and that’s where we believe the employees are,” Fish added. “We made a very conscious decision a long time ago not to do a suburban campus but to stay in the city [and] do an urban campus. We have a similar approach all around the world in the major cities.”

Another factor in Salesforce deciding not to build in Mission Bay was “a question of time,” Fish said. “We’re a very fast-growing company, and it takes a long time to build” the kind of all-encompassing campus sought at Mission Bay.

An opportunity to expand also “came up” in the Transbay area, he said. Being flexible and nimble is a characteristic of Salesforce and other tech firms, so “when something happens—and things happen faster and faster all the time—you really do have to be able to change direction.”

Fish gave his talk during the “City as Amenity” session of the conference, which explored other workplace topics such as the “Blurring of Physical and Virtual Space” and “Creating Community.” The event drew senior professionals from the real estate, technology, architecture and other sectors.

Gervais Tompkin, a principal at global design firm Gensler’s San Francisco office, noted that Salesforce “is renting the most expensive real estate in the most expensive cities in the world” whereas other tech firms typically live on the edges of a city where it’s less costly.

Fish acknowledged the financial challenge of being in the urban center but pointed out some factors that help mitigate that for Salesforce. “One is that we have a substantial number of our employees who work virtually,” he said. “We also have dramatically reduced the square feet per person that we used to have. We’ve gone from a couple years ago way over 200 square feet per person down to about 175. I think we’ll get down to 150.”

David Harris, a corporate real estate consultant who attended the conference, praised Salesforce’s approach to the current urbanization trend. If a company wants to be part of the city, Harris said, it shouldn’t build a fancy cafeteria and have its employees miss out on the restaurants nearby.

“It’s recognizing the amenities that the city does offer,” he said. “You do have a lot of tech companies that build fortresses. No one goes out.”

Image courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

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