The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 12, 2013.
Developers see Pasadena as an inland version of Silicon Beach
By Roger Vincent
Historic Old Pasadena, a restored section of the city’s downtown bustling with shops and restaurants, is getting more high-tech.
Three older buildings at a busy intersection on Raymond Avenue will be transformed into a hub for budding technology firms in a real estate development backed by a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor.
David Sacks, who was instrumental in the launch of two $1-billion Internet companies, has joined Los Angeles developer Rising Realty Partners in a project to turn three century-old buildings into offices for tech firms.
The builders hope to spur more young tech businesses to set up shop in Pasadena, which has a long history as a center of science and technology but trails the Westside’s Silicon Beach as a magnet for high-tech start-ups.
“We’re bringing density of tech use to Pasadena,” said Nelson Rising, chief executive of Rising Realty. “There’s not a lot of density there now.”
Rising Realty and Sacks paid $10.4 million for the three-building complex at the southwest corner of Raymond and Holly Street. The sellers were Cambra Realty and Angelo Gordon & Co.
The buildings in the complex formerly known as Old Pasadena Plaza were erected between 1895 and 1914 in the city’s original commercial center.
There is one nine-story tower and two smaller structures that house restaurants Cafe Bizou and Chado Tea Room.
Past uses of the buildings include an automotive repair shop and a mortuary, according to Rising Realty. The tall tower was a storage facility for decades.
The yet-to-be-named tech center is set to open next summer after a multimillion-dollar renovation to substantially boost the property’s Internet capacity and speed. Wi-Fi service will extend across Holly Street to Memorial Park so tenants can work outdoors if they wish.
There will also be a “co-working” office where individuals can rent space to work in a shared environment.
“The basic idea is to make it as easy as possible to get entrepreneurs started and then graduate to their own space,” Sacks said.
He has experience getting tech companies started. Sacks was the founding chief executive off Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2012 for $1.2 billion. He was the first chief operating officer of PayPal, which was acquired by EBay Inc. in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
He was also an early investor in such notable tech companies as Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Uber, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Palantir Technologies, Houzz Inc. and Airbnb Inc.
A mutual friend introduced Sacks to Nelson and Christopher Rising, a father-son development team that is also transforming the historic PacMutual office complex in downtown Los Angeles into a center for creative businesses.
Sacks’ role in the Pasadena project will be investor and co-developer.
“It’s fun to have a vision of what a building could be and then transform it,” he said. “That’s what we do in the start-up world as well — have a vision of something that doesn’t exist and then try to create it.”
Pasadena is a tech hot spot but doesn’t really compete with Silicon Beach for businesses, said real estate broker Tom Majich of Industry Partners, who was not involved in the deal.
“The Westside has a lot of consumer tech” companies such as Google Inc., Snapchat Inc. and YouTube, he said. “Pasadena is more industrial tech with research coming out of JPL, Caltech or the Art Center College of Design.”
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech and tech incubator Idealab have already helped spawn more than 311 companies in Pasadena, according to local advocacy group Innovate Pasadena.
With those institutions and the shops, restaurants and housing, Old Pasadena is poised to incubate more start-up businesses, Majich said.
“A lot of people say Pasadena is a bit disconnected from Westside tech as a negative, but it’s a totally different market,” Majich said. “The goal is to not drag Snapchat from Venice. It’s to develop new firms.”
Christopher Rising said monthly rents at the new complex will run from about $2.35 to $2.50 a square foot, which is similar to rates charged at other office buildings in Pasadena.
He plans to expose the old brick walls and ceilings, moves that are popular with a lot of technology and creative companies that don’t like traditional office space.
The complex is near a stop on the Gold Line rail service, which connects Pasadena with downtown Los Angeles and is set to be extended east to Montclair. Work is also underway on extending rail service from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica.
“By 2015,” Rising said, “you will be able to take the train from Pasadena all the way to Silicon Beach.”