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Tech-ing Root

Wireless Firms Seek, Thrive in Variety of Settings

March 31, 1997|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The marble-clad lobby is as impressive as any in downtown Los Angeles, and the upper floors offer stunning views. But it's the wiring that has proved to be the big selling point for 700 S. Flower St.

A score of telecommunications and Internet-related firms have flocked to the 33-story skyscraper in recent years to tap into its web of fiber-optic cables, which the tenants rely on for speedy and reliable transmission of information.

In contrast to the depressed downtown office market, the glass-skinned tower stands 85% full and commands a premium for its high-speed connections, said real estate broker Brad Feld.

"When you got the infrastructure in a building, there is a snowball effect, and they start congregating," Feld said of the Internet and telecommunications companies.

From office towers in downtown Los Angeles to industrial parks in Valencia, Southern California's new technology companies are taking root in a wide variety of settings, injecting new life into once-dormant real estate markets and spawning plans for major developments.

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In San Diego, wireless communications firms are gobbling up at least a million square feet of research, office and manufacturing space annually. Taiwanese computer parts distributors in the San Gabriel Valley are moving to the Inland Empire in search of cheaper space.

Landlords and real estate developers who once courted law firms and defense contractors as tenants have jumped on the high-tech bandwagon. Despite the delays and controversy surrounding the Playa Vista project south of Marina del Rey, the huge development is being touted as a center for multimedia and high-tech entertainment companies, including a state-of-the-art studio for DreamWorks SKG.

Throughout the Westside of Los Angeles, buildings are being marketed as perfect for high-tech Hollywood production companies and multimedia studios.

James E. Schneider even sees multimedia start-up firms as the key to realizing his dream of reviving the historic, but for now mostly vacant, Spring Street corridor in downtown Los Angeles. Vintage bank and office buildings would be rewired and renovated to house multimedia entrepreneurs and schools, said Schneider, who was a key player in transforming San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter into a bustling entertainment and shopping area.

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Despite the boom, the new and expanding crop of high-tech firms face financial and competitive obstacles that can turn an overnight success into failure with the latest leap in technology. And few of the fast-growing start-up firms are willing to pay top dollar for the space once occupied by image-conscious law firms and more established technology companies.

"We are a start-up company. We are by no means a cash cow," said Hans Eisenman, establishment executive at Earthlink Network, a fast-growing Internet service provider that recently moved into a former circuit board manufacturing plant in Pasadena. "We don't have any art on the walls. It's pretty industrial. It's not IBM."

A look at some of Southern California's new high-tech centers:

San Gabriel Valley

The region has attracted a wide range of high-tech companies involved in everything from sexy Internet businesses to more mundane computer parts distribution.

Founded less than two years ago, CitySearch--which provides local information guides on the Internet--quickly outgrew its home in the San Gabriel foothill community of La Crescenta and moved into 20,000 square feet of office space on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.

Following the stripped-down style in vogue at high-tech firms, all CitySearch employees--including the top executives--work in a sprawling open space. Doors set atop filing cabinets act as desktops.

"We were not going to uproot the company to the Westside," said Chief Financial Officer Brad Ramberg, referring to the area of choice for many high-tech start-ups. "We looked from downtown on east."

A few miles southeast of Pasadena, industrial space in Industry and Walnut is suddenly in short supply--mostly as a result of the hundreds of computer parts distribution centers and assembly plants established by Taiwanese immigrants. Proximity to freeways, rail lines and a fast-growing Asian population are at the root of the area's appeal, said industrial real estate broker Joseph Lin.

San Diego

Tom Stafford has one of the toughest jobs at Qualcomm, a designer and maker of wireless communications products. As vice president of facilities, Stafford must find about 1 million square feet of research, office and industrial space in the next year to house his company's ever-expanding operations in the Sorrento Mesa and Torrey Pines areas north of downtown.

"We've outgrown everything right now," said Stafford, whose company already occupies nearly 2 million square feet in the area.

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