Sobrato Breaks Ground on Spec Development in East Palo Alto

By Jack Stubbs

“We look forward to a new corner, a new entrance, and a great future for East Palo Alto,” Ruben Abrica, East Palo Alto city council member, said on Wednesday, June 17th as the Sobrato Organization held a groundbreaking ceremony for their University Square Project, a 209,000 square foot Class “A” commercial office building located at 2100 University Avenue in East Palo Alto.

The Sobrato Organization had begun construction on this development on a speculative basis, and it is expecting the project to be ready for occupancy in the 3rd quarter of 2016. The construction company is Milpitas-based Devcon Construction, and the architect on the project is Korth Sunseri Hagey Architects.

Although no specific tenant for the space has been identified at this point, there’s a reasonable chance that it might be utilized as part of the growing Bay Area tech community, according to Chase Lyman, vice president of leasing and acquisitions for the Sobrato Organization. “We’re open to any type of use, [but] the demand and interest is primarily tech, so that’s probably what my expectation is,” Lyman said.

The desirability of the space is especially understandable, considering its location, right in the heart of mid-Peninsula and practically down the street from downtown Palo Alto. “You couldn’t have a better location for access to all the different workforce areas. Whoever takes this building will be able to attract talent from the North and South and from the East Bay,” Lyman added.

According to Abrica the Sobrato Organization’s involvement as the developer markedly enhances the prospects of the project. “A few years back, when they became the main developer, we knew that the potential of the project really increased a lot and that something would happen,” he said.

When Sobrato purchased the site from TMG Partners five years ago for a reported $2 million, they eliminated the existing retail and designated the space for office commercial. According to John A. Sobrato, Founder and Chairman of the Sobrato Organization, the unique design of the parcel was due to the market conditions at the time of purchase. “We studied the market and decided to do really state-of-the-art high-tech building, all brick, [with a] large atrium in the center. It’s really going to be a special building,” Sobrato said. The real estate developer’s investment in the project is about $100 million.

Sobrato University SquareHowever, this significant financial investment is partly because the Sobrato Organization views this project as a long-term venture. “We fully believe that this project will be a catalyst for lots of other development along the University Ave. corridor,” Sobrato said.

The University Avenue Square project is one of many that will allow the city to participate in the larger Bay Area real estate network. “It’s time the city of East Palo Alto captures their share of the economic prosperity that’s happening throughout Silicon Valley,” he added.

Indeed, the prominent location of the project will undoubtedly play a large role in its future success. According to Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, mayor of East Palo Alto, the project serves as a marker for the city. “We’re going to break the ground today that will make a difference in the gateway to East Palo Alto,” Gauthier said. The project will not only serve as a physical marker to the city entrance—it also affirms the city’s participation in the current market. “This is a city and a community on the move,” Gauthier added.

The project—one of the first new office complexes in East Palo Alto since 2001—while a feat in and of itself, will also underscore East Palo Alto’s continued relevance in the economic landscape. “This is another moment for East Palo Alto to shine during another economic boom that’s taking place. We often get left behind, but this time we’re not,” Abrica said.

The endeavor at 2100 University Ave. will also encourage community growth as well. “I think Mr. Sobrato is obviously involved in economic development, but I also see him being a partner in human development and community development,” Abrica added.

While connecting East Palo Alto to other regions around the Peninsula, the project will strengthen the community locally as well, according to Larry Moody, East Palo Alto city council member. “Many of the children who are going through our public schools and who are now college graduates now have an opportunity to come back to their own community and to seek employment opportunities that are going to link them with the region and with the efforts and activities of Silicon Valley,” Moody said.

According to Moody, this event is merely one small step of the larger process. “We are going to use this project as the first of many dominoes to link East Palo Alto with the entire region.”

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News