Adding Value To Surplus Properties

San Francisco, CA – One of Northern California’s largest commercial developers and investors, Ellis Partners focuses on turning around office, retail, industrial and mixed-use properties.

“We regard ourselves as value-add investors with a love for architecture, buildings and communities, and expertise in complex rehabilitation and redevelopment challenges, many of which we execute in the urban infill areas around San Francisco Bay,” says Dean Rubinson, Senior Vice President of Development.  “We have a very strong team of professionals who are experienced in complex repositioning, renovation work and redevelopment of properties.”

Putting the company’s experience to good use, Ellis Partners recently came to the end of a 13-year, multi-phased project.  In the late 1990s, the firm purchased the Grove Valve building from energy giant Halliburton.  The facility was 60 years old at the time and was originally built as a valve manufacturing plant for the shipbuilding industry.

“It was basically a corporate surplus industrial property,” Rubinson says.  “We had 30 foot high ceilings and crane bays located in an industrial neighborhood in Emeryville that was just starting to take shape with Pixar, Jamba Juice, and a number of early and multimedia firms coming to the area.  We recognized that there was a demand for this type of property, with its high ceilings and big, open spaces.”

Ellis renovated the 225,000 square-foot building’s exterior shell and completely demolished the interior, creating an adaptive reuse conversion into a mixed-use office and retail property, which was re-branded as Emery Tech.

“It required a lot of imagination and significant patience and creativity,” Rubinson says.  “We put a parking garage within the original building walls.  Beyond the remediation challenges with hazardous materials and soils, there were a lot of surprises along the way, but we found our way through it.  In the early 2000s, we had the building leased up.”


In 2007, two of Emery Tech’s tenants went bankrupt and Ellis Partners was left with half of the space vacant entering the recent recession.  However, after 18 months, the firm reached a deal with Clif Bar & Company to lease all of the available vacant space for its headquarters.

“Clif Bar saw the bones of the building and the opportunity to take advantage of this unique, creative space,” Rubinson says.  “They like the idea of recycling a physical asset as part of their green strategy. They liked the architecture.  They like the way the building was laid out, with large open spaces where their teams can collaborate.  It was a great fit.”

Ellis Partners completed two phases of development and renovations for Clif Bar.  The work included adding a number of amenities, and the project earned LEED Platinum certification with the use of $2 million of solar photovoltaic generation equipment, including solar water heating and a large photovoltaic array that fuels about 70 percent of Clif Bar’s power use.

Ellis Partners collaborated with Sun, Light and Power to complete the solar array, which was a complicated design and construction process that involved creating a false structure over the garage to accommodate the photovoltaic cells and keep the garage fully-functional.

“We worked for about two years on a $10 million Phase I project to put them into the space, including a childcare facility, an organic café, a theater, a fitness center with a climbing wall, and a lot of office space,” Rubinson says.  “About six months ago, we completed Phase II, which was another 35,000 square feet that was occupied until 2009 by (Washington Mutual’s online division).  We added more room for their offices and created some more collaborative spaces.  They now occupy over 100,000 square feet, and they are thriving.”


Ellis Partners has maximized the potential of another property, the 101 Tech Campus.  Located in North San Jose near the airport with major freeway access, the campus sits at a convenient link between Palo Alto and the East Bay.  The property was originally developed by the Atmel Corporation in the mid-1990s as a headquarters for its semiconductor division.  Later, Atmel began outsourcing its manufacturing, making the building available to Ellis Partners.

“We designed a complete renovation of the property,” Rubinson says.  “We created large light wells where we cut holes in the roof and the second floor slab and glazed the walls of those openings to bring light-filled and amenity-rich courtyards for the occupants to the building.  We filled in the four-bay loading dock and turned it into a park-like space for tech office users.”

The property also came with 12 acres of vacant land adjacent to Highway 101.  The City of San Jose has supported Ellis Partners throughout the entitlement process, and in the spring, the company received final approval for an additional 665,000 square feet throughout three buildings, which will bring the campus to approximately 1 million square feet.

“We are now in discussions with tenants for the existing building and marketing the new buildings for build-to-suits, which we hope will be tech companies rolling out of or priced out of the super-hot areas of Palo Alto and Mountain View,” Rubinson says.

As Ellis Partners presses forward with developing the 101 Tech Campus, Rubinson says the company will continue to identify and leverage underperforming properties.

“We have a great team of professionals, and we try to learn from the lessons that have taught us the good and bad from the past,” he says.  “We are trying not to get too caught up in San Francisco buying, which is a concern right now as prices reach their peak levels again.  We just work hard, roll up our sleeves and try to find good buys.  We want to be creative and see things in underutilized properties that others do not.”

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About Sun Light & Power

Since 1976, Sun Light & Power has offered sustainable solar solutions for a variety of forward-thinking projects.  We work collaboratively with high-profile commercial real estate developers like Ellis Partners to add state of the art solar installations to retrofits focused on green principles.  Our expertly designed energy packages reduce operating expenses while providing maximum environmental benefits.  The performance of the 531kW smart solar array installed on the rooftop of Emery Tech proves unequivocally that embracing renewable energy is simply good economics.  For more information,

Source: DDC Journal, Spring 2014 Issue