Facebook is apparently planning to significantly expand its presence in Mountain View by taking over a large new office complex at the San Antonio Shopping Center, according to city officials.
The social media giant is reportedly planning to sublease all of a new 312,000-square-foot office building that's part of the development firm Merlone Geier's Phase II expansion at the San Antonio Shopping Center. About 2,000 employees could work in the office building, according to past development plans.
The space, which is still being completed, was originally planned for LinkedIn, but the company backed out after it gained various buildings near the Sunnyvale border in a property swap with Google. In November, the workspace company WeWork announced it would take over the lease through its enterprise division, which provides turnkey offices for corporate clients. The Silicon Valley Business Journal first reported last week that Facebook was looking to sublease the building.
The deal between Facebook and WeWork reportedly remains tentative. Neither company would comment about it to the Voice.
Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel said he learned about the Facebook deal upon meeting with consultants involved in the project. The consultants included former City Councilman Mike Kasperzak and South Bay lobbyist Ed McGovern.
"My impression is that the entirety of the office space would go to Facebook," Siegel said, describing the discussion.
Much of the initial talks on Facebook's expansion focused on one big issue -- food. Specifically, Siegel said the representatives wanted to test the waters on loosening the city's restrictions on free meals for tech workers.
This restriction originates in late 2014, when the Mountain View City Council was laying out special conditions on Merlone Geier's Phase II development as the plans were up for approval. As a last-minute condition on the project, the council stipulated that any future office tenant be prohibited from providing free daily meals to employees, or subsidizing more than half the price at any in-house cafeteria.
This rule was meant to protect local restaurants, and it came on the heels of growing concern that small businesses couldn't compete with the free perks being offered to tech workers at high-profile companies, especially Google.
"We saw what happened in North Bayshore and what it did to the small businesses, and we didn't want that to happen here," recalled Councilman John McAlister. "If you're taking up a major part of the property but giving people no reason to come to the businesses, that's not good for the sustainability of the area."
McAlister said he also spoke with a representative involved in the Facebook deal about loosening the meal rules. He said he does not support the idea.
Those involved in the Facebook-WeWork deal said they would propose some kind of modified condition on the food restrictions, Siegel said. The consultants indicated that the office would be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the nearby restaurants wouldn't be able to handle the food needs of the workforce. No proposed modifications have been submitted yet to the city, according to planning staff.
One could argue there is an abundance of restaurants, grocery stores and other retail in the vicinity of the San Antonio Shopping Center, and more are slated come. Some ground floor retail space from Merlone Geier's Phase I development remains vacant, and the Phase II expansion, when complete, will bring 107,000 more square feet of new ground-floor commercial space.
Siegel said he would be amenable to modifying the rules, but any change would need to be sensitive to the surrounding businesses. Perhaps the office tenant should help subsidize rents for nearby restaurants, he said. The council may also use the opportunity to push for better transportation programs for the area, he said.
"I don't know how it's all expected to work, but I think the intent is good and I'm willing to look at suggestions," Siegel said.
It remains to be seen what Facebook's expansion would mean for local shops, said Steve Rasmussen, owner of Milk Pail Market, which abuts the new office building. A fan of Facebook, Rasmussen credits the social media network for helping boost his business during the challenging years after the recession.
In anticipation of the new development, Rasmussen was planning to begin stocking premade sandwiches and lunches for the office workers. Are those plans now being stymied? He couldn't say.
"Nobody know what this area will be like when that office becomes activated ... There's a lot of unknown issues," he said. "We'll do our best to respond to the opportunities that we find."