Apple Disrupts Silicon Valley With Another Eye-Catcher: Its New Home

Apple Disrupts Silicon Valley With Another Eye-Catcher: Its New Home

Things change when a spaceship comes to town.

Tourists stroll by, whipping out their iPhones to get a photo. New businesses move in. And real estate prices go up even more.

Apple’s new home in Cupertino — the centerpiece being a $5 billion, four-story, 2.8 million-square-foot ring that can be seen from space and that locals call the spaceship — is still getting some final touches, and employees have just started to trickle in. The full squadron, about 12,000 people, will arrive in several months.

But the development of the headquarters, a 175-acre area officially called Apple Park, has already helped transform the surrounding area.

In Sunnyvale, a town just across the street, 95 development projects are in the planning stages. The city manager, Deanna J. Santana, said she had never seen such action before. In Cupertino, a Main Street Cupertino living and dining complex opened in early 2016. This downtown enclave includes the Lofts, a 120-unit apartment community opening this fall; small shops; and numerous restaurants and cafes.

Other local businesses are also gearing up in anticipation. A Residence Inn at Main Street Cupertino, expected to open in September, has been slightly customized to meet the needs of Apple employees. Guests will have access to Macs and high-speed internet connections, said Mark Lynn, a partner with Sand Hill Hotel Management, which operates the hotel and consulted with Apple about what its employees need at a hotel.

“All the things we have, lined up with what they needed,” Mr. Lynn said. “They will represent a large part of our business.”

The Birdland neighborhood in Sunnyvale, Calif., on the other side of the road from Apple Park. Credit Laura Morton for The New York Times

Tech companies are nothing new for Cupertino. Apple has called the city home for decades, and Hewlett-Packard had a campus in Apple’s new spot, employing 9,000 people. The surrounding towns have been remade as well in the last decade, as giant tech companies have transformed Silicon Valley’s real estate into some of the most expensive in the country.

But city officials and residents say this project is like nothing they’ve seen before. It is even bringing tourists.

Onlookers snap pictures of the spaceship from the streets. TV helicopters circle above. Amateur photographers ask residents if they can stand on driveways to operate their drones, hoping to get a closer look at Apple Park.

“I just say, ‘Hey, go ahead,’” said Ron Nielsen, who lives in Birdland, a Sunnyvale neighborhood across the street from the spaceship. “Why not?”

Drone operators want that coveted aerial shot while pedestrians want to get an eyeful of the curved glass building before the headquarters become hidden by a man-made forest.

Steve Jobs Presents to the Cupertino City Council (6/7/11)
Video by Cupertino City Channel

The campus is one of the last major projects started by Steven P. Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple, who died six years ago. Just a few months before his death, he went before the Cupertino City Council and laid out his vision for a futuristic circular house of glass that would foster creativity and collaboration. Two years later, the Council unanimously approved the plans for the campus.

The main center features the spaceship ring, the Steve Jobs Theater, a 100,000-square-foot gym and a visitors center in a woodland setting with two miles of running and walking paths. An orchard, a meadow and a pond are inside the ring.

Sheri and Ron Nielsen outside their home in Sunnyvale. The front of their house faces Apple Park. Credit Laura Morton for The New York Times

The entire project shows off Apple’s obsession with details. The custom windows were made in Germany and are considered the world’s largest panels of curved glass. One pair of glass doors is 92 feet high. The finish on the underground concrete garage, said David Brandt, Cupertino’s city manager, is so shiny it is almost like glass.

“Mind-blowing, mind-blowing, mind-blowing,” the mayor, Savita Vaidhyanathan, said about her visit to the site. “I saw the underground 1,000-seat theater and the carbon-fiber roof. The roof was made in Dubai, and it was transported and assembled here. I love that it’s here and that I can brag about it.”

Many of the public views will soon be going away. Apple Park will eventually have 9,000 trees, filling in much of the big open spaces. The public will instead have access to a visitors center with a cafe, a store and rooftop observation views. 

“It will be a separate glass structure and be set in an old-growth olive tree grove,” said Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s vice president of real estate and development.

Not all of these changes have thrilled everyone. Residents of Birdland, an 877-home neighborhood, have been particularly vocal. They have complained about early-morning construction rigs that beep and rumble along major streets, unpredictable road closings, unsightly green sheeted barriers and construction potholes that result in punctured tires.

When her car was covered with construction dust, Sheri Nielsen, Mr. Nielsen’s wife, contacted Apple. The company sent carwash certificates.

Mr. Whisenhunt said the company strove to answer every complaint it received, “and if the issue is serious enough, I will personally visit to see what is going on.”

 

Art Maryon, a real estate agent, in the Birdland neighborhood. He said the neighborhood’s one-story ranch-style homes had been selling for $1.6 million to $1.8 million. Credit Laura Morton for The New York Times 

In the design phase, he said, Apple hosted more than 110 community gatherings for feedback. Birdland was addressed in late 2012 and early 2013 and was given information about what would be happening over the next three years of construction. Apple published community mailers five times and sent them to 26,000 households.

Homestead Road, the thoroughfare that separates Apple Park from Birdland, became its own subject of debate. Cupertino officials wanted to construct a tree-lined median to calm traffic. Apple offered to cover the costs.

But homeowners objected. Residents complained that the island would eliminate one lane, backing up the heavy traffic even more. When 20 or so neighbors approached a Sunnyvale town meeting in solidarity, the city ended up siding with the residents.

The price of property in the neighborhood has also become a source of some worry. Sunnyvale and Cupertino, like many other Silicon Valley towns, have had an extended real estate boom, as the tech industry has expanded. Prices in the area really started to rise, real estate agents and residents said, after Apple released its plans.

A three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,400-square-foot ranch-style house that cost $750,000 in 2011 has doubled in price. Since Apple said it was moving into the former Hewlett-Packard site, prices have moved up 15 to 20 percent year after year, said Art Maryon, a local real estate agent. Today, bidders usually offer 20 to 25 percent over the asking price.

Birdland is already drawing Apple employees, replacing homeowners who have cashed out to move to quieter regions. Those who remain are realizing that life will not be the same when all 12,000 of the Apple workers go in and come out on a daily basis. People in the neighborhood dread the increased traffic and expect workers to park in front of their homes since there will be fewer available spaces in the company garage.

Apple’s answers to concerned residents will continue, Mr. Whisenhunt said.

“When you tell people what is upcoming, some of the anxiety they have calms down a lot,” he said.

And yet, he acknowledged, “you don’t make everyone happy.”

Apple Disrupts Silicon Valley With Another Eye-Catcher: Its New Home

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