The newest development at Stanford Research Park is unlike all the others.
Known as The Hub, it is a community center, a bike shop, a café and a vote of confidence in the future of work commuting.
It's surrounded by car companies but it eschews car trips.
And even though it's open to the wider community, its main target is the roughly 8,000 employees who work within walking distance. This includes those who have commuted to the research park all throughout the pandemic as well as those who are just now starting to get back to the office after two years of remote work.
The building at 3215 Porter Drive quietly began operating in mid-April and hosted its official grand opening on Wednesday. It invites visitors to grab lunch at the new Coupa Cafe, rent or repair a bike at Mike's Bikes on the ground floor or plan their carless trip home with SRP Go, the research park's transportation-management association that launched roughly five years ago and that has been rapidly adjusting its menu of services over the past two years to accommodate the shifting commuting patterns.
For Stanford University, which owns the research park, the new center also represents an experiment of sort in an area well-accustomed to innovation. Tiffany Griego, managing director at Stanford Research Park, said The Hub is Stanford's first community-amenity building at the park, which has been in existence for more than 70 years and whose roster of corporations includes the likes of Tesla, HP, Lockheed Martin, SAP, VMware, Varian, Jazz Pharmaceuticals and many others.
In addition to food and biking service, The Hub includes a conference room that will host events and classes featuring Stanford University professors and authors, with an emphasis on topics such as transportation and sustainability. The idea, Griego said, is both to expand the research park's menu of amenities and to "bring more Stanford culture and Stanford connection to the employees of the research park."
"It's definitely a vote of confidence in the research park and the talent that works here," Griego said. "We want to make it easy for them to get breakfast, lunch and dinner and all the walkable services in close proximity to help them do their jobs better."
Above all, Stanford wants them to have plenty of options to get around. The Hub was championed by Jamie Jarvis, programs director for Stanford Research Park and head of the park's transportation-demand management association, SRP Go. The transportation program is now headquartered at The Hub.
Jarvis said that the last two years have been a period of rapid adjustments for the transportation association. Some of its core services, including its shuttles and subsidies for Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority bus passes, remained in place throughout the pandemic to serve employees who were classified as "essential workers" at companies like Lockheed Martin, Communications and Power Industries (CPI) and VMware and to help health care workers commute to the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
Other services, including carpool and vanpool programs, were suspended during the pandemic, as social distancing became the norm. They were revived last spring but them scaled back again in the fall, with the omicron variant creating a surge in cases.
The organization has also changed its tone to accommodate worker's preferences and health concerns during the pandemic. In the past, for example, SRP Go offered subsidies to employees who vanpool to work four times per week. Now, they only need to commute twice per week.
"For a while, we used to twist arms, 'Let's get you in this vanpool.' Now it's like, 'If you would like to be in this vanpool, we offer this to you,'" Jarvis said in an interview. "You've heard of meeting people where they are? That's what we're doing."
The demand for SRP Go's services has picked up as more workers have returned to the office. While the research park has about 30,000 employees, the companies around The Hub employ about 8,000 people. About half of them now regularly come to work, though their schedules tend to be more flexible than they had been in the past.
Stanford officials believe the demand for the services that the The Hub offer will only increase. As its name implies, many of the companies in the park are engaged in research and have considerable lab space, which makes working from home less tenable than it would be at traditional office spaces. Tesla, for example, is back at the research park in full force, Jarvis said. Some existing spaces at the park are now converting from office to laboratory spaces, she said. And work has recently concluded on a new two-story commercial building immediately adjacent to The Hub, which is expected to be occupied soon.
Though the building includes a modest parking lot, it is intentionally "underparked," which makes it less than ideal for events that attract residents from outside the park for community events (unless, of course, they bike). It has ample bike parking and a bus stop just outside its main driveway. In the parking lot, users can rent lockers that rely on Bluetooth technology to unlock when an employee returns to retrieve their items.
Ironically enough, many of The Hub's users will likely be people employed by car companies. Tesla continues to retain a major presence at the research park. Even though it famously moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas last year, it has actually expanded its research space in Palo Alto when it took over a campus formerly leased by HP. Woven Planet, a Toyota subsidiary that specializes in autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles, is located nearby. So is Ford Greenfield Labs, a research center that has been helping Ford develop its E-Transit vans and Ford-150 Lightning Truck.
Nancy Coupal, owner of Coupa Cafe, said she's been pleased with the initial response to the cafe, which opened on April 13. Though she was initially concerned about the impact of remote work on business, she has been reassured by the demand. Coupa is currently open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., though Coupal said she expects the numbers to expand as more workers return to the research park and as the building next door gets completed. She is also now applying for an alcohol license and hopes to offer visitors beer and wine (as well as yet another incentive not to drive) in the not-too-distant future.
Coupal attended Wednesday's grant opening at The Hub, where more than 75 visitors from nearby companies mingled with Stanford officials and the development team over coffee and snacks. She also joined Jarvis in cutting a large red ribbon, officially inaugurating the new amenity space.
Stanford has been planning for The Hub since 2016, Griego said. Even though the pandemic has shaken up commute patterns, she said Stanford is hopeful that people will return and is ready to welcome them back.
"We're ready to re-engage with all the different programs we've been offering," Griego said. "We want to welcome everybody back to the research park with this great new opportunity to rebuild the community and get back to business."