Facebook, which hit 2 billion users June 27, has announced plans for a major new office, residential and retail development near its headquarters at Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park.
The company submitted to the city Thursday plans to build 3.45 million square feet of office, residential and retail space at its 59-acre commercial property referred to as the Prologis site.
The proposal, which Facebook is calling "Willow Campus," includes nine office buildings, three parking garages, seven public access parks or plazas, 1,500 housing units, a visitors' center, a grocery store and other retail spaces.
The property, which Facebook owns, occupies the area southeast of Willow Road, running from Mid-Peninsula High School to the Dumbarton right-of-way along Willow Road, to the start of the UPS Center and Pacific Biosciences office on O'Brien Drive and Adams Court.
This project would be on top of the 1.8 million square feet of office space the company currently occupies in Menlo Park, and the almost 1 million square feet of office space it's building in the city, plus the 207,000 square feet of office space it plans to occupy in the "Menlo Gateway" area off of Marsh Road.
Facebook did not have an estimate of how many employees would work at the site, but said it would be roughly the same ratio of employees to office space as at its other operations. A total of 9,350 Facebook employees work in Menlo Park, a 54 percent increase over last year, according to the city's budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.
Willow Campus plan
Highlights of the Willow Campus master plan submitted to the city include:
• 1,500 rental apartments, totaling about 1.6 million square feet. As required by the city, 15 percent (or 225 apartments) would be designated to be rented at below-market rates to lower-income tenants. Tenancy of the other units would be open to the public, and not restricted to Facebook employees.
• 1.75 million square feet of office space, spread across nine office buildings.
• 225,000 square feet of retail space, about enough to have ground-floor shops on both sides of the street for three city blocks. Plans include a grocery store and pharmacy, according to John Tenanes, vice president of global facilities and real estate.
• 3,000 parking places in parking garages (the site currently has 2,300 spread out in parking lots).
• Seven parks or plazas that will be accessible to the public.
Early renderings indicate plans to reactivate the Dumbarton rail corridor from Redwood City to East Palo Alto. Pedestrian routes and bike paths connecting the site to neighboring areas of Menlo Park are also planned. Those plans could include a pedestrian and bike overcrossing of Willow Road to connect the new development to Belle Haven.
According to Ryan Patterson, real estate manager at Facebook, the project represents a 10-year plan for the site, and would be built in phases. The first phase would include a grocery store and some portion of the proposed retail, housing and office space.
The proposal also indicates potential for a hotel and a visitor or cultural center at the site.
One of the conditions of Menlo Park's recently approved general plan update is that developers may be required to provide amenities to the community in exchange for being allowed to build above a certain density.
Patterson said Facebook is "very committed" to including a grocery store in the proposed retail space.
"That was one of the asks from the community that came up very, very early – almost at the outset of the general plan process," he said. "We view it as a community benefit, but we aren't going to wait to have that asked of us by the city."
Reactivating the Dumbarton rail corridor in some way is a key part of the plans for the development, according to Facebook officials. While the corridor is controlled by SamTrans, Facebook has already put $1 million toward a study by the transportation agency to look at best short- and long-term courses of action to deal with congestion along the Dumbarton corridor.
In a previous development agreement, Facebook committed an additional $1 million toward implementing the findings of the study, which is expected to be completed in the late summer or early fall, Patterson said.
Facebook, he said, is "very committed" to reactivating the rail corridor. "It's in our backyard," he said. "And with 101 and other regional connectors being very congested, it just makes sense to find ways to utilize some of our existing resources that run right through the community."
The hope is that adding more density along the existing rail corridor will be a catalyst in increasing demand to justify reactivating the rail corridor, whether that's via light rail, bus rapid transit, a bike and pedestrian path, or something else SamTrans recommends, he said.
Gobbling general plan allocations?
Facebook's proposal represents the first large-scale development to be proposed in the M-2 area (Menlo Park's formerly light industrial area, bounded roughly by the San Francisco Bay, University Avenue, U.S. 101 and Marsh Road) since the city's general plan update was approved in November.
The purpose was to plan for development in the area up to the year 2040. Facebook's proposal would take up more than three-quarters of the allowed office development, leaving only 550,000 square feet of commercial space to be developed elsewhere in the M-2 area.
Facebook's Menlo Park expansion
Facebook has been expanding its land holdings, office space, and workforce in Menlo Park at a breakneck rate. The company currently owns 194 acres in eastern Menlo Park, counting 57 acres at the former Sun Microsystelocation, 22 acres between Willow Road and Constitution Drive along Bayfront Expressway (where its Building 20 is located), 59 acres at the nearby former TE Connectivity site and 56 acres at the Prologis Inc. site.
On those properties, the company currently occupies at least 1.8 million square feet of office space, not counting its Buildings 21 and 22, which are under construction and nearing the final approval steps, respectively. Those two buildings will add almost a million square feet of office space, when completed. The company also plans to build a 200-room hotel.
In addition, Facebook officials have confirmed the company plans to lease the first office building to be built by Bohannon Companies as part of the "Menlo Gateway" project, adding 207,000 square feet to its office space. No plans have been finalized for Facebook to lease future "Menlo Gateway" buildings, Facebook spokesperson Jamil Walker confirmed.
This proposal represents the company's first foray into housing development. The apartments are planned to be open for rental by the public, though Patterson noted that for the purposes of reducing traffic, "I think our hope would be that folks who work locally, not just at Facebook, but at other companies locally, would live in the housing."
The project's lead designer, Shohei Shigematsu of OMA New York, said in an interview with The Almanac that the biggest challenge of the project has been to "create a sense of place."
"I think that's why we had to create, basically, part of a new city – not just a typical office park venture," he said. The most important part, he said, was developing the public spaces.
Compared to Amazon and Google, he noted, companies that have also used international architecture firms for their buildings, he said, "I think the framework of the Willow Campus is very different," he said. "It's not about the architectural icon but about creating iconic space ... that's a beautiful thing about this project."
Shigematsu said that the guidelines for development in Menlo Park's updated general plan provided a "great framework" for the project. "We were creative enough to interpret the general plan into a slightly more specific response," he said.
"The density is quite high compared to the rest of Menlo Park," he admitted, noting that studies were done to analyze traffic patterns and movements. "We are quite confident it will work out, even with this density," he said.
Consolidating the parking into garages toward the interior of the site, he noted, will allow most of the campus to be car-free.
Though the refined architectural plans haven't been completed, he said, the plan is to integrate the new buildings with the existing architectural character: playful, casual and not pretentious. "That's the kind of essence we got from Menlo Park and the Facebook culture," he said.
Facebook invited some residents of the community to preview the plans before they were submitted to the city.
Diane Bailey, executive director of Menlo Spark, a local environmental nonprofit, said the project, from an environmental perspective, is "great news for the community."
The proposal indicates the development would work toward a net zero energy goal and would plan to recycle water. Letting people live near where they work or go to school, she said, is the "single largest environmental mitigation you can design."
Rachel Bickerstaff, a Belle Haven resident, declined a request for comment.
Patterson said he expects it to take about two years for the project to be approved – it will have to go through an environmental impact analysis, he said – and another two for the completion of the first phase of the project. That would put the projected completion of the first phase around early 2021, according to Tenanes.
Watch a video produced by Facebook to see the company's proposal in further detail.
Email Kate Bradshaw at email@example.com with your thoughts on the proposal.