Silicon Valley Business Journal Looks to the “Future of Fremont”
Last week, Fremont was the focus of the Silicon Valley Business Journal (SVBJ)’s weekly print publication and the subject of a sell-out event called the Future of Fremont. The overlying theme explored “doing business in Fremont” and provided insight into one of the region’s most dynamic economies.
The event kicked off with opening remarks from Mary Huss, President and Publisher of the San Francisco Business Times, the regional publishing sister organization of SVBJ. Mary noted that because Fremont overlaps both papers’ coverage areas, the two business publications “fight over Fremont for coverage.”
Following the introduction, SVBJ Editor-in-Chief J. Jennings Moss joined Mayor Mei for a fireside chat about Fremont’s ascent toward becoming a strategically urban community and an increasingly important regional player. In introducing the Mayor, Moss quipped, “The Future of Fremont is a bit of a misnomer for this event because the future is now.” The Mayor’s remarks echoed this sentiment, adding that there are currently 5,600 housing units being developed along the BART transit corridor; “Not only is Fremont moving forward, Fremont is moving upward,” Mei said.
When Moss asked about whether the Warm Springs Innovation District near BART could also be a desirable market for commercial development, Mei replied she is confident the housing under construction will be attractive to companies.
“A challenge that all businesses are facing is making sure they have housing for their workers. What makes Fremont unique is that it has so many different kinds of housing,” Mei said. She added that Fremont approved 500 units of affordable housing in 2017 alone, with 1,000 additional units in the pipeline.
After the conversation with the Mayor, Moss moderated a four-person panel including Overton Moore Properties CEO Timur Tecimer, Sares-Regis Group COO David Hopkins, Fremont Bank EVP Kim Burdick, and Studio T-Square President Chek Tang. Collectively, this group offered perspective on business activity and development across the City.
Burdick kicked off the conversation by praising Fremont for building housing, creating jobs, and fostering a quality community with great schools, healthcare, and parks that has served as a foundation for their business. Across the bank’s 20,000 Fremont clients, the bank has provided more than $800 million in retail loans and $100 million in commercial loans.
Tang, whose firm served as the lead architect for Valley Oak Partners’ Warm Springs mega project, shared his thoughts on the boldness of the plans that would turn a vacant field into a space that would house 350,000 offices, a dual-branded hotel, and nearly 800 residential units.
“We had the good fortune of timing, but also the process of going through this project with the City … it was a very collaborative process in creating this vision,” Tang said.
According to Tang, at the time of the master plan development, some members of the real estate community were skeptical about the viability of the hotel and office portions of the project.
“The office building at the time was really a challenge to think about given the marketplace. We give credit to the vision of the City, but also the vision of Valley Oak Partners recognizing the opportunity of the Warm Springs BART Station.”
As a testament to this vision, Tang noted that the hotel site has already sold and interest in the office building has been strong enough to push the developer to submit revised plans for an additional 50,000 square feet.
Sares-Regis’ David Hopkins told the audience about the company’s long investment record in Fremont. After the 2008 recession, the company shifted its focus to prioritizing higher density transit-oriented development, and the City’s Downtown Community Plan paved the way for new for-sale urban housing.
“In Downtown Fremont, we focused on the unit mix and the attainability of the price point,” said Hopkins. “For ownership housing, we’ve got a one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom, and four-bedroom unit mix, which is quite unusual.”
Overton Moore’s Tecimer reiterated his company’s longstanding interest in Fremont. “We’ve been doing business in this city since 2009. We are very bullish on this location,” he said.
That bullishness led the company to move forward with one of the largest speculative industrial developments in the Bay Area’s history. “We have 2.4 million square feet of logistics and manufacturing space being developed right now in Fremont,” said Tecimer. He added that his project is “really the next evolution of the business park that is geared toward advanced manufacturers.”
Digging into the project, Moss asked Tecimer where he thought his future tenants would come from. “We think that we will see organic growth from within Fremont. Companies that are in Fremont right now need a place to expand and want state-of-the-art buildings,” said Tecimer. “We also think that we will see companies migrating from other areas of Silicon Valley over to the Fremont market.”
When asked what is driving companies to look east toward Fremont as a place to expand or relocate, Tecimer believes it is all about cost and operational synergies.
“Ten years ago, you had a separate office building [from a manufacturing or R&D building], but now they are combining multiple functions under one roof. Back then, you might see 5% of a 100,000-square foot industrial building dedicated to office use; now that number can be 15-25%. It’s all about [driving down] cost.”
Moss pointed the same question at Tang.
“In the Bay Area, it really is an innovative thinking process about how companies are going to recruit. It’s such a tight market, you have to go where the talent is. So you really have to be open minded [about where to locate].”
Tang pointed out that this phenomenon is already beginning to play out in Fremont. “How could we have anticipated that Facebook and others would be coming to this side of the Bay?” he asked. “Given the position of Fremont, I think [Valley Oak’s office project] will be in a very strategic location.”
“I think you are going to see more businesses migrating to Fremont. It’s a cost issue; it’s closer to where people live, so you cut commute times. It’s ultimately a quality of life issue, so I think Fremont is very well-positioned.”
To view video from the event and corresponding articles, visit the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s event page: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2019/06/19/future-of-fremont-development-svbj-event.html