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Ambitious Google HQ plan survives after Silicon Valley land swap

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 08:28

[SAN FRANCISCO] Google's ambitious plan to build a new Silicon Valley headquarters, with soaring glass canopies, crane-like robots and movable walls, was given new life Tuesday after a big land swap with neighboring technology giant LinkedIn Corp.

However, Google's designs may not survive in their original form because the local government has new goals for the area that include more residential buildings.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, agreed to sell LinkedIn more than 28 acres of land in three parcels in return for four sites including a 10-acre plot in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View, California, close to Google's existing campus. The land is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but no money changed hands, according to the companies.

For LinkedIn, which recently agreed to be acquired by Microsoft Corp, the property swap will let it build a new campus quicker, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, which reported the real estate transaction earlier Tuesday.

Google gains control of more of the North Bayshore area, a crucial step in its headquarters plan, first revealed in early 2015. The designs were so expansive that they required access to land that LinkedIn was also eyeing for development.

Soon after Google's designs were made public, the city of Mountain View chose LinkedIn's plans instead, granting the company the right to build almost 2 million square feet of office space there.

Tuesday's property swap means Google gets the rights to that allocation of office space, a major first step if the company is going to develop the area, according to Mountain View officials and an attorney involved in the deal.

"In order for Google to build their own buildings in North Bayshore - something they've always struggled with - this land swap had to happen," said Lennie Seigel, a Mountain View council member who has reviewed and voted on plans for the area.  "We're excited to move forward with our respective development plans in our hometown," a Google spokesman wrote in an e-mailed statement.

The fight for land in Mountain View is part of a broader real estate boom in Silicon Valley that's been fueled by the rapid growth of technology companies. Facebook Inc built its own futuristic headquarters nearby and Apple Inc is constructing a headquarters resembling a giant circular spaceship about 15 miles to the south.

The boom has increased demand for housing, making it more expensive to live in Silicon Valley, while also snarling traffic. That's spurred Mountain View to change its goals for the North Bayshore area. The city now wants more residential buildings, not just office space, and any new developments have to reduce traffic.

Mountain View is studying whether to build about 10,000 housing units in the area, according to Randy Tsuda, the city's director of community development.  Google could proceed with LinkedIn's original plans for the area and keep the office space allocation that the city granted in 2015.

If Google wants to change those plans, it would need to go back to the city council to seek re-authorisation, Mr Tsuda said.

That suggests Google's plans will have to change if it wants to proceed with its grand glass canopy designs. Indeed, Mr Tsuda said a core part of Mountain View's vision for the area is a mix-use plan that includes residential housing, retail and entertainment, as well as offices.

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