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St. John Knits Finds New Place to Call Home : Headquarters: The women's clothing manufacturer decides to stay in Irvine and will consolidate half of its operations into a 161,000-square-foot building on Michelson Drive.


IRVINE — After searching for more than a year for a new headquarters building, St. John Knits Inc. said Thursday it has found one across town.

The Irvine-based manufacturer of women's clothing said it will consolidate about half of its existing Orange County operations into a large one-story building at the corner of Michelson Drive and Jamboree Road.

"We decided to stay in Irvine. We've been here for more than 15 years, and our employees all love the area. We're just moving down the road," said Bob Gray, chairman and chief executive officer.

In its search for a new home, the company had considered constructing a building on several Southern California sites, including one in Costa Mesa. Instead, St. John said, it has signed an agreement with Varian Associates, an Irvine investor group that owns real estate across Orange County, for a 161,000-square-foot building at 2722 Michelson Drive. The property is valued at about $8 million.

St. John Knits and the investor group will own and manage the property as partners. Varian Associates will also contribute about $500,000 in cash for the project, St. John Knits said, and the clothing company will contribute $3.5 million for building improvements.

Now occupied by computer hardware maker AmeriQuest Technologies Inc., the building will be remodeled to house St. John's corporate headquarters, design center and manufacturing operations. After extensive modifications, St. John Knits expects to move in by mid-1995.

AmeriQuest officials could not be reached Thursday to comment on their company's plans or confirm when its lease expires.

"It's a high-visibility corner, and we're a high-visibility firm. We want the people here to see where we make our product," Gray said. "Hopefully this will hold us for the next 10 years."

St. John Knits said it has also signed a letter of intent to lease an adjoining property that includes 120,000 square feet of industrial and storage space. St. John will convert facilities at its current 71,000-square-foot headquarters at 17422 Darian into manufacturing space.

St. John Knits has had healthy returns this year. For the quarter ended July 31, the company reported a profit of $3.5 million, or 43 cents a share, up 40% from earnings of $2.5 million, or 31 cents a share, for the same period a year earlier. Revenue for the quarter increased 19% to $29.7 million from $25 million. For the first nine months of its fiscal year, the company's profit was up 38% to $9.9 million.

The company's stock was up 12 1/2 cents to close at $30.87 a share in New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday.

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