Menlo Park Getting Facelift For Facebook Tenancy

As Facebook prepares to move into Menlo Park digs, the company and the municipality imagine big changes for the neighborhood, and on March 5, 100-plus architecture and design companies will spend 12 hours brainstorming proposals for revamping the area not only to accommodate the city’s new “anchor tenant,” but also to attract other businesses that might cater to the social network’s employees.

Menlo Park city officials and event organizers have called it a charrette, a French term referring to design collaborations, which Facebook’s Director of Real Estate John Tenanes had compared to the social network’s famed all-night coding sessions called hackathons when he spoke at the company’s formal announcement of the move on January 31.

Apparently, the city began to organize the charette with the American Institute of Architects before Facebook executives signed any of the sale-leaseback paperwork on the property in Menlo Park’s Willow and Belle Haven neighborhoods — presumably officials wanted to facilitate Sun Microsystems’ plans to sell the real estate. Like Noemi Avram, a spokeswoman for the San Mateo County chapter of the American Institute of Architects, told the San Jose Mercury News:

The emphasis will be on creating an inviting and vibrant residential and business area… The design concepts that emerge from that charrette will be widely circulated. It’s very likely that these ideas will have a significant impact on the development of this area of Menlo Park for many years to come… The ideas won’t be fully developed. They will be broad in imagination, and not necessarily bound by the area’s existing regulations or zoning.

Here’s how the event will work: the design professionals will meet at the Menlo Park property (on weekdays, some Oracle employees still work there) from 8am until 8pm. They’ll be divided into four teams, each tasked with tackling a different element of the area surrounding the soon-to-be Facebook campus.

Team 1 will look at the existing businesses, Team 2 the perimeter of the campus, Team 3 the area northwest of the campus that Facebook bought, and Team 4 housing possibilities around the campus. The teams will combine their proposals and draft a presentation to show at the end of the day. The event is open to the public, and residents are encouraged to bring their ideas to the meeting in the morning.

We’ve wondered about how Menlo Park will finance these neighborhood improvements, and will offer a theory here. Often municipalities issue bonds to pay for infrastructure upgrades, and given how the city’s mayor called Facebook an “anchor tenant” during the press conference last month — well, so many of the reports about Goldman Sachs leading the $1.5 billion investment in Facebook have postulated that perhaps the bank would get future business doing an initial public offering, when perhaps more immediate action could come from underwriting Menlo Park municipal bonds.

While we’re at it, neither the city nor Facebook disclosed the identity of the lessor of the property that Facebook will be leasing as a sale-leaseback; our blog previously commented that such a transaction seemed to reflect Goldman Sachs’ influence or advice, and we didn’t spell out a hypotheses about which entity was buying the real estate from Oracle/Sun Microsystems.

Goldman seems like a logical candidate to buy that property and lease it to Facebook, although in a traditional sale-leaseback Oracle would be the party doing the renting. But given that Oracle is moving employees to its Redwood Shores campus over the course of the year that Facebook is moving into the Menlo Park facility, Facebook would make the more logical tenant.

The point we’re getting at here is that financing Menlo Park infrastructural improvements could earn Goldman Sachs a bundle, and also account for the $500 million difference between the originally reported size of the bank-led $1.5 billion investment in Facebook and the amount that showed up in the press release — and also offers the benefit of diversifying the risk associated with investing in the startup.

How do you think Menlo Park might finance improvements to the surrounding neighborhood? And how might Facebook’s presence influence the redesign?

Jackie Cohen added her own opinions to the bottom of this post.

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